Imaging is an important component of medical care that allows physicians to see inside the body. While imaging techniques are noninvasive, painless and safe, each type of imaging serves a different purpose. Read on to learn about four of the most commonly used imaging techniques.
- The term “ultrasound” usually brings to mind pregnancy scans of the developing fetus. However, high resolution ultrasound is also used to view and diagnose a wide variety of conditions affecting the body’s soft tissues and organs. An ultrasound works by bouncing high frequency sound waves through the body. There is no exposure to radiation and the technique creates detailed images. Ultrasound imaging is best for parts of the body, such as the heart, that need to be scanned while moving.
- Like ultrasounds, MRIs also do not involve radiation. Instead, an MRI uses a combination of radio frequency waves and magnetic fields to create detailed images. MRIs are recommended for viewing tendons, ligaments, and the spinal cord and in some cases, the brain. The scan is also best for viewing differences between normal and abnormal tissue. While MRIs can be a fantastic imaging tool, they do require a patient to hold completely still for long periods of time. For some patients, this can be extremely difficult. A traditional MRI can also be difficult for people who suffer from claustrophobia. However, open MRIs can often help alleviate the problem.
- CT stands for computed tomography and works by sending x-rays through the body. In this way, CTs do expose patients to radiation but only in extremely small, safe doses. Unlike MRIs, CT scans are quick. They are able to produce images of different density levels, and of tissues inside a solid organ in addition to providing extremely detailed information about systems within the body including the brain and its vessels, the skeletal system, reproductive system and gastrointestinal tract. CT scans are preferred over MRIs for showing organ tear and damage, spinal damage and broken bones.
- Digital x-ray. Like CT scans, digital x-rays also expose patients to radiation but in even smaller doses than traditional, film x-rays. Digital x-rays are best for identifying fractured bones, viewing injured or infected joints, investigating abdominal pain and locating foreign objects in soft tissue. Digital x-rays provide superior quality images than traditional x-rays, and are also available immediately after the image is taken.
Depending on your particular needs, you doctor may order one or more of these common imaging scans.