As doctors are grappling with the exponential rise of COVID-19 patients, they are delving into different procedures for diagnosing patients. Prescribing CT scans for COVID-19 has become the most prevalent method to diagnose the disease. Setting aside the fact that CT scans come at an exorbitant cost, it's also been said that it's a gratuitous protocol that should be avoided in most cases.

Randeep Guleria, director of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) and member of the National Taskforce on COVID-19, warned against the misuse of CT scans and biomarkers by patients having mild COVID-19 symptoms, as RT-PCR test can be used for diagnosis. He said that this exposes individuals to unnecessary radiation, and the exposure may increase the risk of cancer. While some doctors use CT scans as a diagnostic tool with abandon, others have cautioned against it.

COVID-19 is an insidious disease that doesn't play by any rules. One thing we know for sure is that there is no cookie-cutter solution to diagnose or cure the disease. So while doctors try out any protocol to this effect, it is imperative we know if it'll serve any purpose or just rack up those medical bills. Let's look into the basics of CT Scans.

What is a CT scan?

A CT scan is a combination of X-rays and a computer that take pictures of your organs, bones, and other tissues. It's more sophisticated than an X-ray and takes detailed pictures of your body.

Why doctors prescribe CT scans for COVID-19 patients? 

Usually, a simple RT-PCR test should be sufficient to diagnose a patient with COVID-19. However, there are certain situations where a patient may have classical symptoms of COVID-19 but their RT-PCR test is negative, in that case, a CT Scan is ordered for patients to rule out the possibility of pneumonia or some serious lung patches, as they show no signs of recovery.

So what's the problem? 

Well, a CT scan can help rule these out. A CT scan is also prescribed to patients with mild symptoms, which the doctors contend is unnecessary as  CT scan is equivalent to 300-400 chest X-rays whose radiation can have harmful effects on the human body. Dr Randeep Guleria said, "A study showed that a CT scan of an asymptomatic person and found that 30-40 per cent asymptomatic patients also had patches in the lungs and recover on its own." If a COVID-19 patient is exhibiting mild symptoms, Dr Randeep Guleria advises they go for a chest X-ray first.

However, there are cases when a mild case can quickly morph into pneumonia or some serious lung patches and in those cases, it is widely believed that a CT scan is the only recourse for an early diagnosis. However, in a statement reported by NDTV, Dr Mrinal Sircar, Head, Pulmonology at Fortis Hospital, Noida, who believes a CT scan is "unnecessary" both in terms of money and a treatment tool, said  "I don’t think only the scan can help you identify the severity. Condition of the patient, factors like oxygen levels, temperature, breathlessness can say a lot about the case. CT scan is completely unnecessary for people as it scares them and causes anxiety."

While some doctors are steadfast in their belief that an RT-PCR test should suffice for patients with mild symptoms and a CT scan should only be used for patients with severe conditions, others contend that most cases with the new mutation cannot be diagnosed with an RT-PCR test, so they are forced to use CT scans.

According to a report on NDTV, Dr Vijay Surase, Interventional Cardiologist, Jupiter Hospital said, "Only diagnostic test that can give you a clue about this viral illness today is through CT scan. But when experts say the CT scan is being overused, I think there is no other modality by which we can diagnose at this stage. But doing the CT scan for a person multiple times can expose a person to risk. This is one of the best tests to properly diagnose this illness."

While he believed CT scans can help with a clear diagnosis, he also asserts that they should be mostly used for patients with severe symptoms.

(The above story first appeared on LatestLY on May 13, 2021 12:17 PM IST. For more news and updates on politics, world, sports, entertainment and lifestyle, log on to our website