X-ray, CT and MRI
Understand the difference between these medical imaging scans and how they guide your care.
What's the Difference Between an MRI and CT?
What is an X-ray?
X-ray uses a small amount of radiation that passes through the body to quickly capture a single image of your anatomy to assess injury (fractures or dislocations) or disease (bone degeneration, infections or tumors). Dense objects, such as bone, block the radiation and appear white on the X-ray picture. Radiologists review the pictures and create a report with their findings to aid in diagnosis.
X-ray is good for:
- Assessing injury (see X-ray scan of the hand to the right)
- Offering a low-cost, first-look exam
What is a CT/CAT Scan?
Computed (Axial) Tomography (CT or CAT scan) is a rapid, 5-20 minute painless exam that combines the power of X-rays with computers to produce 360 degree, cross-sectional views of your body. CT is able to image bone, soft tissue and blood vessels all at the same time. It provides the radiologist with details of bony structures or injuries, diagnosing lung and chest problems, and detecting cancers.
The technology has a tube design but is slim from front to back, seldom creating anxiety or claustrophobia. A person who is very large may not fit into the opening of the CT scanner or may be over the weight limit for the moving table. While it is a painless process, there is radiation exposure with CT scans. CT is generally not recommended for pregnant women or children unless absolutely necessary. Learn more about the CT experience, see what the technology looks like and read about our dose-reduction efforts
CT is good for:
- Imaging bone, soft tissue and blood vessels at the same time
- Pinpointing issues with bony structures (injuries)
- Evaluating lung and chest issues (see lung scan image to the right)
- Detecting cancers
- Imaging patients with metal (no magnet)
What is an MRI Scan?
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) combines a powerful magnetic field with an advanced computer system and radio waves to produce accurate, detailed pictures of organs, soft tissues, bone and other internal body structures. Differences between normal and abnormal tissue is often clearer on an MRI than CT. There is no radiation exposure with MRI machines.
An MRI scan can typically last from 30 minutes to an hour since images are taken as cross sections or “slices” of the body part being scanned, as well as other factors such as the type of technology used (high-field versus open or open upright MRI), what the MRI is looking for and if the patient moves. Patients with claustrophobia typically get anxious in a traditional bore scanner due to having to stay still on a hard table for a long period of time. The machine also makes loud knocking sounds. A comprehensive patient screening procedure is followed as due to the magnetic field, special precautions are made or exams may be canceled for patients with cardiac pacemakers, tattoos and metal implants. A person who is very large may not fit into the opening of a traditional tube MRI scanner or may be over the weight limit for the moving table. Read about the MRI experience and hear what an MRI sounds like
MRI is good for:
- Imaging organs, soft tissue an internal structures (see spine scan image to the right)
- Showing tissue difference between normal and abnormal
- Imaging without radiation
Guiding Your Care
Our team of specialized radiologists and clinical associates are experts in imaging. They can help guide your provider in selecting the right technology for your exam depending on your unique situation. Our goal is to provide the finest in imaging services – the right procedure, at the right time, with accurate results for each individual patient.