Imaging is the process of creating a visual representation of the inside of the body for clinical analysis and medical treatment. That is, it provides a picture of the body's interior.
Imaging tests send forms of energy through the body, such as radiation, magnetic fields, and sound waves. The reaction of the body to these forms of energy helps create images.
Imaging reports are generally combined with lab work, such as blood and urine tests, to:
diagnose a disease,
determine the severity of the disease,
monitor a patient for treatment.
There are various imaging technologies:
computerized tomography (CT),
magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and
diagnostic nuclear medicine.
MORE: Types of Imaging Tests
No method is better than the other. Several different methods may be combined to view a specific part of the body to obtain as much information as possible.
Some medical imaging myths include:
"You'll be exposed to x-rays if you enter a room with an x-ray device." The truth is that, unless the device is in use, you won't be exposed to radiation in that situation. That's because those x-rays are electronically generated.
"You become permanently radioactive after radiation exposure." X-rays and radiopharmaceuticals don't stay in the body, so you can't expose others to radiation. Radiopharmaceuticals have very short half-lives and pass through the body quickly.
"An MRI scan is the safest imaging technique." Although MRI devices don't use radiation, that doesn't mean that they're safer. Patients with metal implants cannot undergo MRI scans due to magnetization. Even tattoos may pose a risk if the ink contains metal particles!
At times, imaging technologies may involve the use of contrast agents. These substances are swallowed, injected, or inserted to highlight tissues or structures to be examined in greater detail.
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