Children's Hospital Colorado

Computed Tomography (CT or CAT Scan) at Children’s Hospital Colorado

At Children’s Hospital Colorado, we treat the big things, the small things and everything in between.



Doctors at Children’s Colorado use computed tomography to diagnose and treat a variety of conditions. We may recommend this imaging procedure as part of your child’s care.

What is pediatric computed tomography?

Computed tomography, or CT (also known as a CAT scan) uses X-ray equipment to create detailed images of your child's organs, bones, soft tissues and blood vessels.

X-ray beams and detectors rotate around your child to capture a series of pictures in just a few seconds. Then computer software combines those pictures to create a multidimensional view inside your child’s body. We use a contrast material for some CT exams so we can see areas of the body in greater detail.

Depending on your child’s condition, we may recommend a scan of their head, chest, abdomen or pelvis. We may use CT to:

  • Diagnose appendicitis, stones in your child’s urinary tract and other causes of abdominal pain
  • Monitor inflammation or infections (such as pneumonia)
  • Diagnose congenital (present at birth) medical conditions
  • Detect and assess tumors
  • Evaluate for head injury in cases of trauma

How should I prepare my child for a pediatric CT or CAT scan?

Here are a few tips to help prepare for your child’s procedure:

  • Take time to talk with your child and explain the scan.
  • Reassure your child that they’ll be safe and comfortable.
  • You may want to bring a comfort item like a stuffed animal, toy or blanket.

What to expect during your child’s CT or CAT scan

It’s normal for your child to feel anxious about getting a CT scan, so it’s helpful to know what to expect. A CT or CAT scan will generally look like this:

Check in to the hospital

  • Your doctor will advise you when to arrive at the hospital, depending on whether your child needs anesthesia for the test. You will usually arrive anywhere from 3 hours to 30 minutes before your child’s scheduled scan.
  • Bring a list of your child’s medicines and insurance card.
  • We’ll give your child an identification bracelet to ensure they get the right test.
  • A CT technician talks with you about the procedure and answers any questions. You may also meet with one of our child life specialists.
  • You’ll also sign a consent form.

If you’re pregnant, you need to avoid X-rays, so please bring another adult to the hospital to support your child. Siblings and other children are not allowed in the exam room during the test, so please make arrangements for someone to stay with them.

Take the CT images

  • We escort you and your child to the CT room.
  • Your child wears a hospital gown, and a technologist positions your child lies on the CT table.
  • If we’re using contrast fluid, we give your child an intravenous (IV) injection, oral dosage or contrast enema (through a tube in their rectum.)
  • The CT scanner has a big camera with a circle in the middle. The table moves in and out of the circle as the camera takes the pictures. It goes through quickly at first, to determine where to start taking the images.
  • Then the table goes through the scanner again, this time moving slowly. This might happen several times, depending on what type of test the doctor ordered.
  • We may ask your child to hold their breath during the scan.
  • The radiologist reviews the results and shares them with your child’s doctor, who follows up with you on next steps.

What to expect after a pediatric CT scan

Your child can return to regular activities right away, unless your doctor recommends otherwise. If your child received sedation or anesthesia, you’ll receive specific instructions.

If you have any questions and/or concerns, call the ParentSmart Healthline toll free at 1-855-KID-INFO (543-4636). Caring pediatric nurses are available 24/7 to help answer your questions.

Why choose us for pediatric CT scans

As a comprehensive pediatric hospital, Children’s Colorado specializes in caring for kids’ unique medical needs. We offer:

  • Expertise: Our skilled Imaging Services team cares for thousands of children each year. An experienced radiologic technologist performs your child’s CT scan, and a highly trained pediatric radiologist reviews it.
  • Child-friendly exams: We use small doses of radiation to provide a safer, more comfortable experience for your child. Your child also gets age-appropriate support from our child life specialists, who specialize in putting kids at ease.
  • Advanced technology: We use sophisticated equipment to create accurate images of your child’s body, so we can provide accurate diagnosis and treatment.
  • Convenience: We offer radiology, imaging and testing at several of our locations throughout Colorado. You can filter by specialty service, city or zip code to find the test you need closest to home.

Radiation and CT scans

At Children's Colorado, we support the national Image Gently campaign and its recommended practices for minimizing the effects of radiation on children.

While CT scanning is a valuable diagnostic tool, it is the largest contributor to medical radiation exposure in the United States. Radiation exposure is a concern for both adults and children. However, there are unique considerations in children:

  • Children are more sensitive to radiation than adults.
  • Children have a longer remaining life expectancy than adults, resulting in a larger window of opportunity for radiation exposure.
  • Children receive a higher radiation dose than necessary when adult CT settings are used for imaging.

At Children's Colorado, we use pediatric-specific CT settings, which ensure the lowest possible radiation doses. To keep our patients safe and healthy, we:

  • Adjust the exposure factors for children before each visit
  • Scan only the indicated area and avoid exposure to other parts of the body
  • Avoid multiphase imaging
  • Complete annual inspections and certifications by the State of Colorado's authorized inspectors to ensure proper equipment maintenance
  • Work with radiology technologists who are registered with the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists and have an advanced certification in CT
  • Work with board-certified radiologists with specific fellowship training in pediatric radiology

We promise to use gentle, age-appropriate imaging techniques for your child. Learn more about why pediatric radiology matters.

Learn more and schedule a pediatric CT scan

For more questions or to schedule a CT scan test, please contact the Children’s Colorado general radiology scheduling line at 720-777-6541.