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Why You Might Feel Sick after a CT Scan with Contrast

Why You Might Feel Sick after a CT Scan with Contrast and How to Manage It

Computed tomography (CT) scans are a vital diagnostic tool. It helps medical professionals produce in-depth cross-sectional images of your internal organs, bones, and blood vessels. In many instances, a contrast material is given intravenously (through a vein) or orally to enhance the visibility of specific tissues or blood flow during the scan. Contrast-enhanced CT scans are generally safe, although some people may get sick after ct scan with contrast. Let’s delve deeper into why this happens and explore effective strategies to manage these side effects.

Understanding Contrast Materials in CT Scans

Contrast materials, contrast agents, or contrast media, are substances that alter the way certain tissues appear on X-ray images. In a CT scan, X-rays help create detailed pictures. By introducing contrast material into the body, specific areas become brighter or darker on the CT scan images, allowing radiologists to distinguish them more clearly from surrounding tissues. Radiologists use two main types of contrast materials in CT scans:

Iodinated Contrast

This is the most common type of contrast material containing iodine, a naturally occurring element. The application is typically via intervenous injection.

Barium Sulfate

This contrast material is often ingested orally and is used primarily for imaging the gastrointestinal tract.

Common Side Effects of CT Scans with Contrast

While CT scans with contrast are generally safe, some individuals experience temporary side effects. The severity and type of side effects can vary depending on the type and amount of contrast material used, your individual health, and any underlying medical conditions. Below is a summary of the most typical adverse effects:

Nausea and Vomiting

These are the most common adverse effects of contrast-enhanced CT scans. They typically occur shortly after the injection or ingestion of the contrast material. But normally, they go away on their own in a few hours.


Another typical adverse effect is headaches, which are frequently described as a little pressure or throbbing sensation. They generally subside within a day without requiring any specific treatment.

Warm Flushing Sensation

This can manifest as a feeling of warmth spreading throughout your body, particularly in the face and neck. It typically appears shortly after the contrast injection and resolves quickly.

Metallic Taste

A somewhat common, safe side effect is a metallic taste in the mouth. It can occur after ingesting barium contrast or following intravenous injection. It usually fades away within a short period.

Itching and Rash

Mild itching or a rash on the skin can sometimes develop after exposure to contrast material. Usually, this gets better on its own in a few hours.

Less Common Side Effects of CT Scans with Contrast

Rarely, more serious side effects may manifest. It’s critical to get medical help right away if you encounter any of the following symptoms following a CT scan with contrast:

Severe Allergic Reaction

This might cause breathing difficulties, wheezing, hives, or swelling of the lips, tongue, or cheeks.

Kidney Problems

Individuals with pre-existing kidney disease are at a slightly higher risk of developing contrast-induced nephropathy, a temporary decline in kidney function.


In rare cases, contrast material can trigger seizures, particularly in individuals with a history of epilepsy or other neurological conditions.

Factors that Increase Your Risk of Feeling Sick after a CT Scan with Contrast

Certain factors can increase your susceptibility to side effects from CT scans with contrast. These include:


If you have a history of allergies, particularly to medications containing iodine or shellfish, you may be more likely to experience an allergic reaction to contrast material.


Individuals with asthma are at a slightly higher risk of experiencing breathing difficulties after contrast injection.

Kidney Disease

Pre-existing kidney problems can increase your risk of developing contrast-induced nephropathy.


People with diabetes, especially those taking metformin, may require special precautions before undergoing a CT scan with contrast.

How to Manage Side Effects after a CT Scan with Contrast

Fortunately, most side effects associated with CT scans with contrast are mild and temporary. Here are some strategies to manage these adverse effects and enhance your post-operative recuperation:


Drinking plenty of fluids before and after your CT scan helps your body flush out the contrast material efficiently. It potentially reduces the severity of nausea and other side effects. Aim for clear liquids like water, clear broth, or sports drinks.


If you are prone to nausea and vomiting after medical procedures, your doctor may prescribe anti-nausea medication to take before or after the scan.

Relaxation Methods

Easy methods of reducing tension, such as deep breathing or guided meditation, may also help reduce nausea.

Dietary Adjustments

For a few hours after the scan, opt for a bland diet consisting of easily digestible foods like crackers, toast, or applesauce. This can help settle your stomach if you are experiencing nausea.

Avoiding Strenuous Activity

While not entirely restricted, it’s advisable to avoid strenuous physical activity for a few hours after the scan, especially if you are feeling unwell.

Communicating with your Doctor

Before, during, and after your CT scan with contrast, it is crucial that you and your doctor have open communication. So let’s talk about this:

Health Background

Tell your physician about any allergies you may have, especially if they are related to drugs, iodine, or shellfish. Furthermore, let them know about any previous medical concerns you may have, such as diabetes, kidney illness, or asthma.

Side Effect Worries

If you have any worries about possible side effects, talk to your doctor before doing anything. They are able to address your individual concerns and offer advice on how to deal with any discomfort you may feel.

Reporting Side Effects

If you experience any side effects after your CT scan with contrast, especially severe ones like difficulty breathing, wheezing, or swelling, report them to your doctor immediately.


Although transient side effects are possible, they are typically moderate and controllable, and CT scans with contrast are an invaluable diagnostic tool. By understanding the reasons behind these side effects and implementing the strategies outlined above, you can significantly enhance your post-procedure experience and ensure a smoother recovery. Remember, clear communication with your doctor is paramount throughout the process. Seek immediate medical treatment if you have any concerns or suffer any unexpected side effects.

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