Medical imaging is an essential part of modern medicine. Doctors in 2016 made three times as many medical images as they made in 2000. Technology is becoming safer and more cost-effective, allowing doctors to make treatments right away.
Yet medical imagery confuses many people. Though X-rays are commonplace, most Americans assume they are the only type of medical imaging technology. They confuse X-rays with harmful radiation, and they avoid seeing a doctor.
Put your mind at ease. All types of medical imaging are safe and essential. Here is a quick guide to them.
X-rays use electromagnetic radiation to image dense matter in the body. Tissues absorb the radiation differently, producing black and white areas. Bones and tumors show up white, while soft organs like lungs show up as black.
X-rays are quick and painless. You lie, sit, or stand in front of the machine. You may need to move into another position, in order to get front and back views.
You may be given a lead apron to protect other parts of your body. If you are receiving a dental X-ray, your dentist will cover your torso with an apron. This will keep the radiation from impacting your organs.
X-rays do use the same radiation that causes some cancers. But the dose of radiation is so low that cancer is unlikely. X-rays do not exacerbate pre-existing tumors, and many doctors use them to find cancer in the body.
Doctors can use x-rays to diagnose bone fractures, infections, and swallowed items. Procedures take no longer than 15 minutes.
Computed tomography (CT) uses a series of X-rays to create cross-section images. Doctors use CT scans when a single X-ray cannot produce a detailed view.
During a CT scan, you lie on a table that slides into the scanner. The scanner resembles a large ring, and it rotates so beams can reach all spots of your body.
CT scans use slightly more radiation than X-rays, but they remain safe. They produce far more complete images, photographing complex structures like the cardiovascular system.
Doctors use CTs to diagnose traumatic injuries, heart disease, and infections. Some doctors use CTs to monitor the effects of treatments, tracking tumor growth and bone repair.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses magnetic fields and radio waves to produce images of the body. MRI does not use radiation. It is a non-invasive procedure that produces no pain.
You lie down on a bed that moves into the MRI machine. The machine is deep and narrow, but doctors remain in contact with you. Air flows into the machine so you can breathe.
You should not move while an MRI machine scans you. You can answer questions, but don’t provide any unnecessary information.
If you have a defibrillator or implant, do not go in an MRI machine. The machine uses powerful magnets that can disable or move your device.
MRI magnets make loud noises, which can be disconcerting. If you have trouble being in small spaces, talk to your doctor. They can give you strategies on what to do while you are in the machine.
MRI tests may take up to an hour. But they provide detailed imagery of bones, soft tissues, and organs. Doctors use MRIs to diagnose aneurysms and spinal cord and blood vessel disorders.
Ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves, not radiation. It is non-invasive and causes no pain.
During an ultrasound, a technician places gel on your skin. They press a small probe on the gel and move it around to capture images. The procedure takes no longer than an hour.
You remain seated during the ultrasound, but you are under no restraints. You can talk to your doctor, and you can see the images as they are being made.
Most people know of ultrasounds through pregnancies. The ultrasound is a terrific way to show how a fetus is developing in the womb.
But ultrasounds are just as useful for examining internal organs and joints. Gallbladders, genitals, and prostates are easy to see through an ultrasound.
An echocardiogram is a type of ultrasound. It captures videos of the heart, determining how it moves and functions. Doctors can send you these videos, then work with you on treatment plans over the phone.
Positron emission tomography (PET) uses radioactive drugs called tracers. Scanning machines detect tracers, creating images of bones and organs.
You inject, swallow, or inhale the tracer. You then go into a PET scanner, which is similar to a CT device. The scanner reads the radiation that the tracer gives off.
PET scans can take up to two hours. Though long, they are important tools for serious illnesses. In addition to cancer, doctors use PET scans to diagnose heart disease and Alzheimer’s.
PET scans expose patients to a very small amount of radiation. The tracer may cause an allergic reaction, so talk to your doctor if you are concerned. Tell your doctor if you have a fear of confined spaces.
Some machines can take both a PET scan and a CT one. You can take a CT scan and then have PET on the same day.
The Main Kinds of Medical Imaging
Many people think of radiation and tight spaces when they think of medical imaging. But medical imaging is safe and effective.
X-rays use electromagnetic radiation to make images of dense materials in the body. CT scans use multiple X-rays to create more detailed images of complex structures.
MRIs use no radiation at all, opting for magnetic fields to create images of bones and organs. Ultrasounds use sound waves, focused on soft tissues and tumors. PET scans use radioactive substances to document internal structures for diseases like Alzheimer’s.
When you need medical imaging, go to the specialists. Specialist Direct offers medical imaging and telehealth solutions for you and your loved ones. Get a free consultation today.