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A diagnostic imaging procedure is any combination of techniques that lets doctors look inside your body to determine the source of certain symptoms. Various techniques, from x-rays to nuclear technology, can be used for this purpose. The specific types of scans your doctor recommends will depend on your symptoms and the part of the body they want to examine. Most are painless and non-invasive.
MRI is short for Magnetic Resonance Imaging, which is a technique that uses a combination of radio wave energy and magnetic fields to visualize internal body structures. This type of imaging provides different visual information than that of X-Rays or CT scans.
The machines that produce these images are called MRI machines. Patients lay in the center of these large, tube-shaped structures while the machine takes pictures of the body’s internal environment. The machine does not touch the body or flash during this procedure, but it will produce loud knocking noises for the duration.
Unlike other imaging modalities, nuclear medicine focuses on the physiology of your body rather than the structure. Tiny amounts of a radioactive isotope are bound to specialized molecules that your body uses in its normal functions and are then imaged with a specialized instrument called a gamma camera. Nuclear medicine is the only imaging modality that can look beyond what you would learn from a simple picture and allows your doctor to see exactly how well your body is functioning.
A PET scan — or Positron Emission Technology scan — is a diagnostic imaging test that allows a doctor to observe body functions on a cellular level and potentially diagnose diseases or other internal issues. Using a special dye containing radioactive tracers that the patient will receive through injection, PET scanners highlight the organs and tissues that absorb the tracers, displaying levels of high chemical activity to indicate disease.
Computed Axial Tomography, also known as a CAT or CT scan, is a sophisticated imaging technique that allows physicians to view a patient’s anatomy with incredible detail from any angle. The scanner uses an X-ray source that rotates around the patient gathering data which can then be reconstructed to view internal structures however the physician needs to. CT is a staple of modern medicine and can be used to detect and diagnose a huge range of conditions from simple bone fractures to cancer.
An X-ray is a decades-old imaging technology that uses X-ray photons to develop images of the body’s internal structures.
The modern X-ray machine works by shooting photons through the human body. These photons will pass harmlessly through most tissues, passing from one side of a patient’s body to another. The major exception to this is bone — bone absorbs these photons, preventing them from passing through the patient’s body. Therefore, the pattern of photons created on the opposite side of the patient’s body should be a perfect silhouette of their skeletal structure. In modern technology, a camera records this silhouette.
Ultrasound, also called sonography, is a type of diagnostic exam that uses sound waves to create images of internal organs.