X-Ray: The x-ray has been around for a long time. Other than exposing you to a bit of radiation, the x-ray procedure is non-invasive and should not produce much pain, other than perhaps having to get into a certain position and hold still. X-rays are typically used to show bones and therefore fractures. Chest x-rays, however, also can show diseases of the lungs.
CT Scan (also known as CAT Scan) which stands for computed tomography works very much like an x-ray in terms of emitting beams of energy at the body. However the CT scan takes these “slices” of images while moving around the body. Then, using computer technology, these slices are assembled, creating a more detailed 3D image on a computer monitor. CT scans should be relatively painless, other than having to remain still. CT scans are quite effective in diagnosing serious injuries to the head, chest, spine and abdomen as well as discovering tumors. CT scans are also useful in diagnosing kidney stones.
CT Scan with Contrast: There are times when a physician needs to examine a particular organ or tissue area and will order a CT scan with contrast. This test requires the patient to either ingest by mouth or be injected intravenously with a dye. As the dye moves through the tissue or organ, the radiologist can often see blockages and other issues. Sometimes these scans require that the patient fast ahead of time. Some patients have an allergy to the contrast dye. CT scans with contrast are also not suitable for patients with kidney disease. In addition, diabetics who take metformin or Glucophage have to stop taking the medication after the dye has been introduced for a few days. Some patients experience unpleasant side effects after taking in the contrast dye, including nausea, a metallic taste, headache and flushing.
MRI: Magnetic Resonance Imaging, unlike X-rays and CT scans, utilizes radio waves and powerful magnets to create a three dimensional image. MRI scans take a little longer than CT scans. MRI’s are quite effective in diagnosing issues in soft tissue, joints, tendons, muscles and ligaments. MRI’s are often utilized to evaluate the spine, neck, brain, breast and abdomen. MRI’s are more enclosed than CT machines and may induce a type of claustrophobia. There are open MRI’s which can be utilized if your insurance covers that. In addition, sedatives or anti-anxiety medications may lessen the closed-in feeling. Patients should avoid eating or drinking prior to the exam, particularly any food or drink that contains caffeine.
PET Scan: Positron Emission Tomography utilizes a radioactive substance that has been administered to the patient. The PET scan then looks for the particles emitted from the substance within the body. PET scans are used to look for the location of cancerous areas as well as to track any spread of cancer. A PET scan is also useful in cardiac care as well as in neurologic diagnoses. Patients need to drink water prior to a PET scan, but cannot eat for four hours prior to the scan. The radioactive substance will be administered through an intravenous line. PET scans take longer than both CT and MRI scans as you will have to remain relatively quiet and still after the IV starts, but before the scan can begin. The major discomforts of the PET scan include the administration of the IV, having to stay still and being in a closed machine.