What’s the Difference Between a CT Scanner and an MRI?
The human body is extremely complex. However, modern medical technology gives doctors a good chance of diagnosing just about any issue. While external problems can be diagnosed with a simple examination of the body, internal health issues require a more in-depth test. The two primary medical tests used to diagnose internal damage are the CT scan and MRI. These scans may seem very similar to non-medical professionals, but they are actually quite different.
What is a CT Scanner and What Does it Do?
A CT scanner (computed tomography) is a medical diagnostic machine that uses x-rays to get detailed internal images of the body from multiple angles. This test is sometimes referred to as a CAT scan. This diagnostic tool was developed to help healthcare professionals detect issues in a person’s organs, bones, and other tissue without using invasive measures. A CT scan is a painless way to find health problems early, so patients have a better chance of successful treatments.
During the scanning process, the CT Tube will rotate around your body as it uses a low dose of radiation to take multiple Images, called Slices, of a specific part of the body. These Slices are then compiled to create highly-detailed 2D and 3D Images that doctors use to diagnose their patients. While the entire CT scan appointment will take about 30 minutes, the CT scanning process is done in less than a minute.
What is an MRI and What Does it Do?
An MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) is another medical diagnostic test used to help get clear images of the inside of your body. However, an MRI uses a magnetic field and radiofrequency pulses to create these internal body images rather than x-rays. The magnetic field and radio waves produce a pattern by bouncing off the fat and water molecules in a patient’s body, creating an image.
During an MRI scan, you will be asked to lie on a table before being rolled into the scanning machine. Because the magnets have to be close to the body in order to produce accurate images, this tube can seem tight. The device also generates loud sounds while operating, so some patients feel a bit anxious during the process. However, you will be asked to remain still during the MRI scan in order to get the images. It is hard to predict the exact length of the procedure, but it will generally take 20 to 60 minutes to get all of the necessary images.
What is Each Scanner Used to Diagnose?
Since a CT scanner and MRI machine use completely different methods for generating internal images of the body, they are often used to diagnose specific problems.
A CT scan is commonly used when looking for irregularities in tissue, including tumors, growths and internal bleeding, and bone fractures. A CT scan can be used to track the progress of cancer and heart disease treatments as well. A low-dose CT scanner is also an excellent preventative diagnostic tool that can capture images of early heart disease, lung disease, colon cancer and other problems before they become more serious health issues.
An MRI is used when highly detailed images are needed in a specific area of soft tissues. It is often used to diagnose serious issues in the brain, spine, ligaments, reproductive system and other internal organs. Based on your symptoms, your doctor will choose between an MRI or CT scan. However, an MRI is not generally used for preventative diagnostic measures because it takes longer and is more expensive to operate.
Are CT Scans and MRI Scans Safe?
It is essential to know the risks associated with any medical procedure or diagnostic test before they are performed. Luckily, you will have very little to worry about when getting a CT scan or MRI. Both of these scans are safe with very minimal risks.
A low-dose CT scanner uses a small amount of radiation to produce its images, so the risk of any side effects is very low. Additionally, a CT scan is done in a matter of minutes, so there’s less risk of claustrophobia or anxiety for the patient. There is no sedation or medication required for a CT scan, and it’s a quick, non-invasive procedure.
The risks with an MRI are associated with any implantable devices that contain metal. Because an MRI uses a strong magnetic field, pacemakers and artificial joints do not respond well to this type of scan. It is also recommended that you avoid an MRI scan if you are prone to claustrophobia or anticipate severe anxiety while inside the machine.
Benefits of a CT Scan vs. MRI
There is a clear set of benefits for using either of these diagnostic scans. The MRI simply provides more highly detailed images of a specific area where internal and patient generated motion is not a factor. However, a CT scanner provides benefits in nearly every other area of consideration, including:
Takes much less time than MRI scans
CT scans are more affordable and accessible
Reduces risk of the patient experiencing claustrophobia and anxiety
CT scans are quiet while patients often require hearing protection for an MRI
CT scans are a valuable tool for preventative diagnostic measures
You will only have to spend a few minutes getting a CT scan instead of potentially more than an hour in a tight MRI tube. Additionally, the larger scanning tube used for CT scans reduces any feelings of claustrophobia. You will also avoid having to hear loud banging and other unfamiliar noises associated with an MRI scan.
Choosing the Right Scan
Depending on your symptoms and the severity of your health issues, your doctor will recommend the best diagnostic scan for you. However, you should know all the facts and feel comfortable with any type of medical test you undergo.
If you’re looking for a way to take charge of your health today, a CT scan is an excellent option that can help you build a healthier future. With a preventative heart scan, lung scan and other types of body scans, you have a chance to know the status of your health right now. This allows you to make the lifestyle changes necessary to live a long, healthy life. Learn more about the scans at Preventative Diagnostic Center in Las Vegas with our award-winning SOMATOM go.All low-dose CT scanner and take the first step towards a healthier you.
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Dr. John J. Pierce is the Medical Director at Preventative Diagnostic Center. He is Board-certified in Emergency Medicine as well as Board-certified by the American Board of Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine. He received his medical training from Western University of Health Sciences, College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific, in Pomona California. He also has a Bachelor of Science degree in Kinesiology from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. In addition to his regular practice, Dr. Pierce serves as a Tactical Physician with the Las Vegas SWAT team.