Diagnostic imaging is a tool for your doctor to look inside your body and diagnose the cause of your pain or discomfort without surgically opening you up. There are many types of diagnostic imaging tests including X-ray, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), and Computerized Tomography (CT scans). We will discuss these three below and then go into why your doctor may have chosen one method over another.
X-rays shoot a small amount of radiation through the body to get a snapshot of your bones and dense structures. This is useful as an initial diagnostic and can be used to check for injuries, such as fractures and dislocations, or diseases, such as tumors or bone degeneration.
MRI scans use a powerful magnetic field and radio waves to image organs, soft tissue, bone, and other internal structures which means that there is no radiation exposure. A scan runs from 30 minutes to an hour and the final image is useful for differentiating normal and abnormal tissue.
MRIs can be open or closed; the former machine is open on the sides whereas the latter is like a tube. Closed MRI machines produce better images though the quality of open MRIs is very close and the machine itself is a much better fit for patients with claustrophobia.
CT scans use x-rays to get 360 degree images of bones, soft tissue, and blood vessels. This can be used to look at injuries with bony structures, detecting cancers, and for examining the lungs or the heart. The scan will usually take between 5 to 20 minutes.
Should I Get An X-ray, MRI, or CT Scan?
X-rays are often used as an initial diagnostic exam and can lead to the other two. MRIs cannot be used on patients with metal because of the giant magnet and CT is not used on pregnant women or children because of the radiation.
CT exams are generally preferred to MRI exams when speed is important, for example in an emergency room, or when details are not necessarily important. It is the preferred diagnostic exam for looking at the chest, stomach, and bones. MRI is generally used for the spine and joints because it shows the spinal cord, tendons, and ligaments in high detail.
Always feel free to ask your doctor why they chose the exam that they did! If you have questions about any of the exams mentioned above, contact us and our expert radiologists would be happy to help.