Where would we be without medical images? Imagine if doctors weren’t able to take x-rays, ultrasounds, CT scans, MRIs, and more.

Types of Medical Images

There are many different ways that we can see the inside of our bodies.

1. X-ray

People are probably most familiar with X-rays. They use a type of radiation called electromagnetic waves. It shows pictures of the inside of your body in black and white because different tissues absorb different amounts of radiation.

Calcium in bones absorb the most and that’s why they are white. Fat and other soft tissues absorb less making them look gray. Air absorbs the least and that’s why your lungs look black in the photos.

X-rays are usually used for checking for broken bones but there are other uses. It’s also used to spot pneumonia, looking in luggage in the airport, and scanning passengers for any weapons.

2. Computed Tomography (CT)

A CT is a diagnostic imaging test used to create detailed images of your organs, bones, soft tissue, and blood vessels. The cross-sectional images that are made during a CT scan can be viewed on a computer, printed on film, or transferred through electronic means.

This is the best method for detecting different cancers, it allows doctors to see where it is along with how big it is. It can also reveal any internal injuries and bleeding that can help save lives.

It’s quick and painless to do and can be more detailed than an x-ray can be at times.

3. Mammography

A mammogram is a specific x-ray picture of the breast. A screening mammogram is used to check for signs of breast cancer. It’s done by having two or more pictures taken of each breast.

The images are usually able to detect tumors that can’t be felt by a manual breast exam. It can also detect little deposits of calcium, called microcalcifications that sometimes are a sign of breast cancer.

Diagnostic mammograms are to check for breast cancer after a lump or any other sign of the disease are found. Other signs include breast pain, thickening of the skin of the breast, nipple discharge, or a change in the shape or size of the breast. But these can also be benign signs so it’s best not to panic if you notice any of them.

Of course, it’s not the perfect method, there are such things as false positives. This is when a doctor sees an abnormality but it turns out not to be cancer.

4. Positron-Emission Tomography (PET)

A PET scan uses small amounts of radioactive materials called radiotracers, a special camera, and a computer to evaluate your organ and tissue functions. By looking at them from the cellular level, it can detect any early signs of disease before it would be obvious on other diagnostic medical imaging.

How it’s done is that you take a contrast medicine, which is made out of a small amount of radioactive material. It can either be injected, swallowed, or inhaled as a gas. Then with the special camera, it takes pictures of your body. The medicine is glowing and leaving a trail throughout your body to show how it’s working.

5. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

An MRI uses radio waves and a magnetic field to create detailed images of your organs and tissues. It’s often used to look at blood vessels, abnormal tissue, breasts, bones, the brain and more.

You lie on a table that slides inside a tunnel-shaped machine. This process can be hard for anyone with claustrophobia due to the small amount of space and the how long the scan takes. You also have to stay very still. Other than that though, it’s painless.

6. Ultrasound

The ultrasound can also be known as medical sonography or ultrasonography. It uses high-frequency sound waves to create images of the inside of your body. It sends the sound waves into your body and is able to translate the sounds that come back as images.

Most people will probably be most familiar with its use during pregnancy. It’s able to show parents images of their baby as it grows and let them hear its heartbeat. It’s also used to check for abnormalities in the heart and blood vessels, any organs in the pelvis and abdomen, and any symptoms of pain, swelling, or infection.

The Future of Diagnostic Imaging

The next step in imaging healthcare is to go from 2D to 3D images. Systems that are capable of this are a small part of the medical market, due to constraints and costs. 3D images will allow a better look at any issue organs or tissue. Sometimes on flat pictures, diseases can hide behind a bone or in the shadows. This wouldn’t happen with a 3D image. (3d printing is also revolutionizing space travel. Learn more about it in this post.)