Navigating Lung Imaging Tests: What to Expect and How to Prepare

05 July 2024

How to Prepare

Lung imaging tests are crucial tools in the diagnosis and management of respiratory conditions, including asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), pneumonia, and lung cancer. Whether you’re scheduled for a chest X-ray, computed tomography (CT) scan, fluoroscopy (C-Arm), or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), understanding what to expect and how to prepare can help alleviate anxiety and ensure a smooth experience. In this blog post, we’ll explore the different types of lung imaging tests, what they entail, and how to prepare.

Types of Lung Imaging Tests

We’ve outlined a few of the most common imaging exams below and what patients should typically expect during the exam. Generally speaking, patients should wear loose and comfortable clothing and avoid wearing metal or jewelry. They should also notify the team if they have allergies, are pregnant or breastfeeding, have any device in their body like a pacemaker, or have any other unique medical condition. If you have any concerns or questions about the procedure, don’t hesitate to communicate them with your healthcare team beforehand.

Chest X-ray:

A chest X-ray is a quick and non-invasive imaging test that produces images of the heart, lungs, and surrounding structures.

  • Patients are typically asked to remove any jewelry or clothing that may interfere with the X-ray images.

  • During the procedure, you’ll be positioned in front of the X-ray machine and asked to hold your breath momentarily while the images are taken.
  • The entire process takes only a few minutes.

Computed Tomography (CT) Scan:

A CT scan provides detailed cross-sectional images of the lungs and can detect abnormalities such as tumors, nodules, or infections.

  • Preparation for a CT scan may involve fasting for a few hours before the test, depending on the area being scanned.
  • Patients may also be asked to refrain from wearing metal objects or clothing with metal fasteners to avoid interference with the imaging process.

  • During the scan, you’ll lie on a table that slides into the CT scanner, which rotates around the patient to capture multiple images from different angles.
  • It’s essential to remain still during the scan to ensure clear and accurate images.
  • During 4DMedical’s unique CT LVAS scan, patients are asked to take a few deep inhales and exhales; the process takes just a few moments like any other CT scan. After the imaging is complete, 4DMedical’s proprietary software then creates a detailed report highlighting regional lung ventilation and ventilation heterogeneity providing never before seen insights into lung function.

C-Arm or Fluoroscopy:

A C-Arm or fluoroscopy imaging test is a dynamic and real-time imaging procedure used to visualize internal structures and guide various diagnostic and interventional procedures.

  • Before the test, patients may be instructed to change into a gown and remove any metal objects, such as jewelry or belts, to ensure clear images.
  • During the procedure, you’ll lie on a table while the C-Arm device, which is a type of X-ray machine shaped like the letter “C,” is positioned around the area of interest.
  • The C-Arm emits continuous X-ray beams that capture real-time moving images displayed on a monitor, allowing healthcare providers to observe the anatomy and guide treatments precisely.
  • You may be asked to change positions and/or raise your arms above your head for clearer lung imaging.
  • During a 4DMedical XV LVAS scan, you will be asked to inhale and exhale as you would in a relaxed state, otherwise called “tidal breathing.” After the imaging is complete, 4DMedical’s proprietary software then creates a detailed XV LVAS report for your physician. The report highlights regional lung ventilation and ventilation heterogeneity providing never before seen insights into lung function.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI):

MRI uses powerful magnets and radio waves to create detailed images of the lungs and surrounding structures.

  • Patients undergoing an MRI must remove metallic objects, as they can interfere with the imaging process and cause harm to the patient.
  • Depending on the area being scanned, you may be asked to fast or refrain from consuming certain foods or beverages before the test.
  • During the MRI, you’ll lie on a table that slides into the MRI machine, which produces loud noises during the scanning process. Some facilities offer headphones that you can use to listen to music of your choice. 

Nuclear Imaging Lung Scan:

Nuclear imaging lung scans are most often used to look for emboli or blood clots in the lungs. 

  • A radioactive material called a tracer is given to the patient and sends out gamma rays. 
  • A lung scan could be a ventilation or perfusion scan; ventilation scans look at how air moves in and out of the lungs while a perfusion scan looks at blood flow. 
  • Clothing and jewelry will need to be removed. 
  • Generally, no prior preparation is needed. 

Communicating with Patients

Facilities should work to communicate expectations with patients before exams to reduce fears, confusion, and the chance of no-shows. To reach patients, you may need to get creative and try several strategies including text reminders, phone calls, patient portal alerts, and email. 

Some good tips and tricks include, 

Clear and Timely Appointment Reminders: Send appointment reminders well in advance via email, text message, or phone call. Communicate the date, time, and location of the appointment along with any instructions or preparations the patient needs to follow.

Personalize Communication: Address patients by their preferred name and maintain a friendly, empathetic tone in all communications. Personalization helps patients feel valued and builds rapport with healthcare providers.

Provide Necessary Information: Include essential details such as what to expect during the appointment, any required paperwork or documentation to bring, and procedure or location-specific instructions. 

Be Accessible: Make it easy for patients to reach out with questions or concerns. Provide multiple contact options, such as a dedicated phone line, email address, or patient portal, and ensure prompt responses to inquiries.

Offer Language Assistance: Ensure that patients who speak languages other than the primary language of your practice have access to interpretation services or translated materials ( 20% of the US population speaks a language other than English at home). 

Follow-Up After the Appointment: After the appointment, follow up with patients to ensure they understand any follow-up instructions, medication regimens, or referrals.

What Happens Next?

If further screening is deemed necessary after a lung imaging exam, it typically means that the initial imaging study revealed an abnormality or finding that requires more detailed evaluation. The radiologist who interpreted the imaging exam may recommend further evaluation based on their finding, and your healthcare provider (e.g., primary care physician, or pulmonologist) will review the results with you and discuss the next steps.

Additional imaging studies may be ordered depending on the nature of the abnormality and the suspected underlying condition. This could include more specialized imaging modalities such as a high-resolution CT, MRI, or PET scan, which provide greater detail of the lungs and surrounding structures.

In some cases, additional diagnostic procedures may be necessary to further evaluate the abnormality. This could involve procedures such as bronchoscopy (inserting a thin, flexible tube with a camera into the airways), biopsy (removal of a small tissue sample for laboratory analysis), or thoracentesis (removal of fluid from the chest cavity). You may be referred to specialists such as pulmonologists, oncologists (if cancer is suspected), or thoracic surgeons for further evaluation and management.

If the abnormality is deemed non-threatening or of uncertain significance, your healthcare provider may recommend monitoring with periodic imaging exams to assess for any changes over time. Alternatively, if a specific diagnosis is made, a treatment plan will be developed, and follow-up appointments will be scheduled as needed.

Early detection and proper management of lung abnormalities can significantly impact treatment outcomes and overall prognosis. Lung imaging tests are vital in diagnosing and monitoring respiratory conditions, allowing healthcare providers to develop appropriate treatment plans and improve patient outcomes. By understanding what to expect and how to prepare for these tests, you can approach the experience with confidence and peace of mind. If you have any questions or concerns about your upcoming lung imaging test, don’t hesitate to reach out to your healthcare provider for guidance and support.

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