Do I Need a CT Scan or an MRI?

Cat scan, ct scan, mri, mri scan

Diagnostic imaging allows doctors to examine inside a patient’s body to gather clues as to what may be causing the patient’s complications. Of course, there are many forms of diagnostic imaging tests depending on many factors. The common types of tests include X-rays, CT scans, and MRI scans.

While most people know that X-rays can help you determine if a bone is broken, people are less familiar with when they should get an MRI or a CT scan. Both scans produce highly accurate images that, compared to X-rays, provide a much larger degree of contrast between the various tissues in the body.

While they are both advanced forms of radiology tests, they utilize different mechanisms. Understanding which scan you need can be a key factor in reaching a diagnosis for your complications, so it is important to know when you should get an magnetic resonance image versus when you should get a CT scan.

Do I Need an MRI?

These scans produce highly-detailed images using strong magnetic fields and high-frequency radio waves. By reading the energy produced by the water molecules in your body, as they realign themselves following each pulse of radio waves, the scan provide detailed pictures of what’s going on inside that area.

Since there is often either very little water or no water whatsoever in the body’s bone structures, these scans aren’t used to detect and diagnose bone injuries. Instead, they clearly depict soft tissue structures, so patients typically undergo an MRI scan to examine possible soft tissue injuries. They typically aim to diagnose things such as:

·       Aneurysms,

·       Disorders of the eye and inner ear,

·       Multiple sclerosis,

·       Spinal cord injuries,

·       Strokes,

·       Heart and blood vessels complications,

·       Structural problems in the aorta (like aneurysms or dissections),

·       Tumors or some abnormalities of the body’s organs,

·       Joint disorders or abnormalities due to injury,

·       Torn and strained ligaments and tendons,

·       Disk abnormalities in the spine,

·       Infections on the bone,

·       And tumors, both benign and malignant.

So, when your doctor indicates the possibility of one of the issues listed above, among many other soft tissue injuries, you might want to ask about getting an MRI.

Do I Need a CT Scan?

On the other hand, CT scans utilize X-rays to provide detailed images of the body, instead of magnetic fields used in MRIs. As the body moves through the arc-like donut structure, the CT scanner sends X-ray beams through the patient’s body to the X-ray detector on the opposite side of the arc. The scanner takes cross-sectional images of what’s going on in the body by comparing the strength of the different beams, which are measured 1000 times per second.

CT scans provide images that include bone, soft tissue, and blood vessels all at the same time, allowing highly-detailed contrast to the image. Because of this, CT scans can provide images for bone injuries, lung imaging, chest imaging, and cancer detection providing diagnosis for complications regarding:

·       Complicated bone injury,

·       Traumatic injury to the head such as blood clots or skull fractures,

·       Tumors in the head area,

·       Infections,

·       Spinal cord issues,

·       Complications with intervertebral discs,

·       Bone density when evaluating osteoporosis,

·       Tumors, cysts, and infections in the chest area,

·       Abdominal organs such as the liver, gallbladder, spleen, etc.,

·       And the presence or absence of tumors around the body.

At the end of the day, it can be difficult to understand whether you should be getting an MRI, getting a CT scan, or not getting either. Understanding the different types of images that they produce might help you better understand the distinction between the two, but it’s not always so clear cut.

So, it’s important to always remember that you can ask your doctor and medical care providers for their recommendations, as they are appropriately trained experts who might better understand your individual circumstances. 

By Russell McBurnie