Categories: Medical Imaging

X-Ray vs. MRI – when to choose which?

How does the X-ray work?

X-ray uses a small amount of radiation that passes through the body to quickly capture a single image of your anatomy to assess bone fractures or diseases such as bone degeneration, lung infections, bowel obstruction or tumors. Dense objects (e.g. bones), block the radiation and appear white on the X-ray picture.

In conventional X-ray imaging, one 2D image is produced. In Computed Tomography (CT), the tube and the detector are both rotating around the body during the examination so that multiple images can be acquired, resulting in a 3D visualization.

X-rays for medical imaging use are produced by accelerating electrons at metal targets. When an electron hits the metal, it slows down rapidly, and the energy produced causes an electron to be knocked out from the metal atom and this releases X-rays. Radiologists review the pictures and create a report with their findings to aid in diagnosis. Different organs and tissues have a different sensitivity to radiation. This is why the actual risk to the body from X-ray procedures varies depending on the part of the body being X-rayed.

Diagnostic X-rays (primarily from CT scans due to the large dose used) increase the risk of developmental problems and cancer in those exposed. Therefore, a huge effort is made by radiologists, technitiansand manufacturers to decrease the dose of radiation to the body of a patient. “Effective dose” is a parameter of the dose absorbed by the entire body that takes account of these differing sensitivities. Advanced X-ray systems contain special features that help reduce the radiation dose.

X-ray is generally used for:

  • Assessing skeleton injuries
  • Widely used as a low-cost, first-look examination
  • Can reveal changes in organs of thoracic and abdominal cavity
  • Useful for differential diagnosis in emergency patients

When is it better to use an MRI Scan?

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) combines a powerful magnetic field with an advanced computer system and radio waves to produce detailed and accurate pictures of organs, soft tissues and internal body structures. Differences between normal and abnormal tissue is often clearer on an MRI than X-ray or CT. Moreover, there is no radiation exposure with MRI. Read more about the MRI examination process here.

MRI advantages:

  • Imaging internal organs and soft tissues
  • Showing tissue abnormalities clearly
  • Can be used with contrast
  • No radiation used
  • Generally very safe examination

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