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Diagnostic Imaging: What the Doctor Ordered

Diagnostic Imaging: What the Doctor Ordered

When you don’t feel well, getting to the bottom of the issue sometimes requires special technology that involves scanning your body. From blood vessels to bones, diagnostic imaging can show it all. Depending on your needs, your provider may order one or more types of imaging. CT, MRI, PET — all the different options can quickly sound like a spoonful of alphabet soup. Take a moment to learn which scan type is used for what.

Diagnostic CT Scans

Computed tomography (CT) uses X-ray technology. As X-rays pass through the body, the CT scanner takes pictures called slices. A special computer then piles these slices on top of one another to create 3D images.

In certain cases, a contrast dye, taken orally or injected, enhances the CT scan results. The dye highlights blood vessels, the digestive tract, and other areas, illuminating a clearer picture of what’s going on in your body.

According to the National Institutes of Health, a CT scan can help detect disease and damage throughout the body, including:

  • Bones and joints. Though a traditional X-ray scan can reveal basic bone and joint issues, a CT scan is better at showing more complex issues, such as bone-based tumors.
  • Head. Stroke-inducing blood clots, brain tumors and traumatic brain injury are visible with a CT scan.
  • Heart. CT scans help detect heart disease and damage or other abnormalities.
  • Lungs. With a CT scan, your provider can find tumors, blood clots, pneumonia, and more.

Diagnosing With MRI

Unlike some diagnostic imaging techniques, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) doesn’t use radiation. It relies on a magnetic field and radio waves. This combination helps visualize soft tissue.

During the exam, you lie inside the donut-shaped machine, which houses a large, powerful magnet that helps capture images. The machine detects how your body’s protons react to the magnet and radio waves. This information gets translated into visual images that help determine what’s happening inside your body.

An MRI helps visualize the:

  • Brain
  • Joints (ligaments, muscles, and tendons)
  • Spinal cord and nerves

Because MRI uses a strong magnet, MRI may be a bad choice if you have artificial joints, pacemakers, or other implanted metallic devices. Before undergoing this type of scan, your provider will go over the details with you.

Diagnosing Breast Cancer

Currently, the American Cancer Society recommends all women begin screening mammograms by age 45. If that screening shows anything suspicious, your provider will prescribe a diagnostic mammogram.

This diagnostic imaging test uses the same technology as a screening mammogram. While standing, you will place your breasts between two plates, one breast at a time.

The machine captures X-ray images of your breasts. Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County provides 3D mammography for a more comfortable and better image of your breasts. 3D mammography is particularly helpful at detecting cancer in dense breasts.

Diagnostic Imaging Goes Nuclear

Blocked arteries, bone disorders, and gastrointestinal bleeding may get diagnosed with the help of nuclear medicine. Your team may also prescribe a nuclear imaging exam to help determine whether you have Parkinson’s disease, dementia, or other movement disorders that would benefit from the MHSC Neurology Clinic.

Nuclear imaging relies on radioactive chemicals. Prior to your study, a nuclear medicine specialist injects the chemical into your body. The chemical then travels through your body and attaches to certain proteins. Using a positron emission tomography (PET) scanner, the radiologist can see where the radioactive chemical concentrates and take a closer look at what is ailing you.

PET’s Place in Cancer Care

As a nuclear imaging tool, PET scans rely on a radioactive chemical. For a PET scan, you lie inside a high-tech tunnel. The PET scanner then detects the radioactive chemical in your body to create 3D images.

While PET scanning has other uses, it is often used in cancer care. With a PET scan, your team can get a clear look at your cancer before, during, and after treatment.

  • Before treatment, a PET scan shows where your cancer is hiding. PET scans help determine if your cancer is in one area or has spread. Knowing this helps your team create an appropriate treatment plan.
  • During treatment, PET scanning lets your team know how treatment is going. If the cancer isn’t responding as expected, your team can change your cancer treatment plan.
  • After treatment, a PET scan confirms that all cancer is gone. In the event cancer remains, a PET scan identifies where it is. Your team then makes a new plan to continue treating the disease.

At MHSC, our combined PET/CT scanner provides the advantages of CT and PET scanning in a single device.

Using Sound to Detect Disease and More

Ultrasound uses sound waves to create real-time images of various parts of the body. To perform an ultrasound, your provider spreads gel on your skin before placing an ultrasound wand against or inside your body.

The wand produces sound waves that bounce off your internal body parts. The bouncing sound waves produce images of the body. With ultrasound imaging studies, you are not exposed to even the lowest amount of radiation.

A few reasons your care team may use this diagnostic imaging technology may include:

  • Detecting heart abnormalities
  • Determining bone density
  • Getting a better look at suspicious breast tissue
  • Guiding a biopsy procedure
  • Placing needles in blood vessels or other tissue
  • Viewing unborn children in utero

X-ray Vision

Discovered in 1895 by Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen, the X-ray became the first diagnostic imaging tool. Today, X-ray is helpful for detecting various issues, including:

  • Broken bones
  • Dental health issues
  • Foreign objects within the body
  • Pneumonia
  • Tumors and masses

Thanks to X-ray technology, mammography and CT imaging are possible. While undergoing an X-ray, your provider places you between the X-ray machine and an X-ray detector. X-ray radiation passes through your body and creates shadows that show up on the detector.

What Happens After Diagnostic Imaging?

If a diagnostic imaging exam detects disease or injury, you either begin treatment or undergo further testing to confirm a diagnosis. In some cases, imaging tools help guide treatment. They’re also used to ensure treatment success.

Need help getting to the bottom of your health? MHSC’s caring professionals are ready to put their advanced diagnostic imaging technology to use for you.