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Shoulder CT scan

CAT scan - shoulder; Computed axial tomography scan - shoulder; Computed tomography scan - shoulder; CT scan - shoulder

A computed tomography (CT) scan of the shoulder is an imaging method that uses x-rays to create cross-sectional pictures of the shoulder.

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How the Test is Performed

You will be asked to lie on a narrow table that slides into the center of the CT scanner.

Once you are inside the scanner, the machine's x-ray beam rotates around you. (Modern "spiral" scanners can perform the exam without stopping.)

A computer creates separate images of the shoulder area. These are called slices. These images can be stored, viewed on a monitor, or printed on film. Three-dimensional models of the shoulder area can be created by adding the slices together.

You must be still during the exam, because movement causes blurred images. You may be told to hold your breath for short periods of time.

The scan should take only 10 to 15 minutes.

How to Prepare for the Test

Certain exams require a special dye, called contrast, to be delivered into the body before the test starts. Contrast helps certain areas show up better on the x-rays.

If you weigh more than 300 pounds (135 kilograms), find out if the CT machine has a weight limit. Too much weight can cause damage to the scanner's working parts.

You will be asked to remove jewelry and wear a hospital gown during the study.

How the Test will Feel

Some people may have discomfort from lying on the hard table.

Contrast given through an IV may cause a slight burning sensation, a metallic taste in the mouth, and a warm flushing of the body. These sensations are normal and most often go away within a few seconds.

Why the Test is Performed

CT rapidly creates detailed pictures of the shoulder. The test may help diagnose or detect:

This test may also help guide a surgeon to the right area during a biopsy in the shoulder area.

Normal Results

Results are considered normal if the shoulder being examined is normal in appearance.

What Abnormal Results Mean

Abnormal results may be due to:

Risks

Risks of CT scans include:

CT scans do expose you to more radiation than regular x-rays. Having many x-rays or CT scans over time may increase your risk for cancer. However, the risk from any one scan is small. You and your provider should weigh this risk against the benefits of getting a correct diagnosis for a medical problem.

Some people have allergies to contrast dye. Let your provider know if you have ever had an allergic reaction to injected contrast dye.

Rarely, the dye may cause a life-threatening allergic response called anaphylaxis. If you have any trouble breathing during the test, you should notify the scanner operator immediately. Scanners come with an intercom and speakers, so the operator can hear you at all times.

Related Information

Shoulder arthroscopy
Shoulder replacement
Shoulder pain
Rotator cuff problems
Using your shoulder after replacement surgery
Shoulder replacement - discharge
Shoulder surgery - discharge
Rotator cuff exercises
Rotator cuff - self-care

References

Perez EA. Fractures of the shoulder, arm, and forearm. In: Azar FM, Beaty JH, Canale ST, eds. Campbell's Operative Orthopaedics. 13th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 57.

Shaw AS, Prokop M. Computed tomography. In: Adam A, Dixon AK, Gillard JH, Schaefer-Prokop CM, eds. Grainger & Allison's Diagnostic Radiology: A Textbook of Medical Imaging. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2015:chap 4.

Sheah K, Bredella MA. Shoulder. In: Haaga JR, Boll DT, eds. CT and MRI of the Whole Body. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 61.

Thomsen HS, Reimer P. Intravascular contrast media for radiography, CT, MRI and ultrasound. In: Adam A, Dixon AK, Gillard JH, Schaefer-Prokop CM, eds. Grainger & Allison's Diagnostic Radiology: A Textbook of Medical Imaging. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2015:chap 2.

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Review Date: 3/17/2019  

Reviewed By: C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, San Francisco, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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