Which Medical Imaging Exam is Right For You?

August 10, 2018 – 4 min read

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Medical imaging is a broad term that includes a menu of radiology exams that are used to view internal bodily structures. Different tests are able to visualize different structures, so the right diagnostic test depends on what your signs and symptoms are. For some ailments, your doctor may recommend a combination of tests to ensure they can get the full picture of what is going on. Here, we will discuss the various options and what your doctor will be looking for.


The x-ray is the oldest medical imaging modality and is used to see bones and other internal organs. X-ray technology uses electromagnetic radiation to take images of the inside of your body in shades of black and white. X-ray is quick, painless, and useful in detecting a wide variety of conditions including broken or fractured bones; some infections such as tuberculosis; bone disease including cancer, arthritis, and osteoporosis; dental concerns, swallowed items, and the size of the heart. If you and your doctor suspect a broken bone, a blockage, or certain infections, it will likely be an x-ray that is ordered. Pregnant women are advised to use an alternative radiology test to limit the unborn child’s exposure to radiation.


Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) uses a powerful magnetic field and radio waves to create a detailed image of the inside of the body and can view organs, soft tissue, and bones. MRI does not use radiation, which gives it an advantage over x-ray, however, some patients are unable to use an MRI due to implanted devices, certain medical conditions, and claustrophobia. Your doctor may order an MRI if there is suspected soft tissue damage, brain or heart abnormalities, or concerns with the functioning of organs.


Computed tomography (CT/CAT Scan) is a series of x-rays taken from different angles at the same time and compiled to create a 3D image of bone and tissue. CT scans use the same electromagnetic radiation as a standard x-ray machine. They are useful for looking at bones, organs, and other internal structures. Your doctor may order a CT scan to look for clots, infections, or tumors. CT scans can be particularly useful in monitoring the effectiveness of cancer treatments by monitoring the size of tumors and looking for decreases in size.


Ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves to create images of internal structures. Ultrasound involves no magnets or radiation, so it is a safe alternative for all patients. Ultrasounds can detect abnormalities in organs and blood vessels, and can be used to see inside internal organs. Your doctor may order an ultrasound if there is a concern with blood vessels or there is pain and swelling not related to bone. Ultrasounds are also common in detecting and tracking pregnancy and fetal growth.

Bone Density Scan

Bone density scanning, or bone densitometry (DEXA), is a form of x-ray that looks at the density of your bone. This technology works by using two different levels of x-ray energy at the same time to measure bone strength and loss. Bones scans are used specifically to test bone density and body mass and are useful in identifying osteoporosis.


Arthrography is a specialized x-ray that is used to visualize the inside of a joint. Contrast, or dye, is injected into the joint to help provide a clear image of the soft tissue of the joint. The procedure can then use CT or MRI to capture images of the joint to identify what is wrong. The arthrography can detect abnormalities in ligaments, tendons, and soft tissue within the joint. If you are having joint pain, your doctor may order an arthrography along with your CT or MRI.

Your doctor will order one or a combination of medical imaging tests to get a better idea of what is happening inside your body. It is important you discuss all of your medical conditions and concerns with your provider before your diagnostic radiology test is performed. At Touchstone Imaging centers, we are backed by more than 25 years of experience using all of the above-mentioned modalities. Contact us to schedule your radiology appointment today!