Understanding Diagnostic Imaging

Diagnostic imaging is a versatile and valuable technology that allows doctors see what’s going on inside the body. These tests send forms of energy (x-rays, sound waves, radioactive particles or magnetic fields) through the body.

The type of imaging a doctor uses depends on the symptoms and the part of the body being examined. From broken bones and ligament tears to organ damage, cancerous tumors and a range of diseases, diagnostic imaging contributes daily to lifesaving medicine.

The “do-it-all” diagnostic imaging: X-rays

You or a family member may have had x-rays to check for broken bones or to screen for breast cancer. But x-rays can also be used to:

  • Detect pneumonia
  • Locate certain tumors and other abnormal masses
  • Diagnose specific types of injuries
  • Pinpoint calcifications
  • Locate foreign objects
  • Clarify dental problems

X-ray images show different parts of the body in shades of black and white. Calcium absorbs the highest amounts of the x-ray’s low-level radiation, so bones look white. Fat and other soft tissues absorb less, and look gray. Air absorbs the least, so lungs appear black.

CT scan imaging

Computed tomography (CT) employs special x-ray equipment to make cross-sectional pictures of your body. CT scans can detect:

  • Broken bones
  • Cancers
  • Blood clots
  • Heart disease
  • Internal bleeding

During a CT scan, you lie still on a table, which slowly passes through the center of a large X-ray machine. For some CT tests, a contrast dye is used to make parts of your body show up better in the image.

Nuclear medicine scans

Nuclear scans use specific substances (radiotracers) that work with the scan to reveal structures and functions inside your body. With a special camera that detects radioactivity, doctors rely on nuclear scans to:

  • Diagnose cancers, injuries and infections
  • See how organs such as the heart and lungs are working

Before the test, you will receive a small amount of radiotracer, then you lie still on a table while the camera creates images.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

MRI leverages a large magnet and radio waves to look at organs and structures inside your body. Health care professionals work with MRI scans in a variety of ways, including:

  • Diagnosing torn ligaments
  • Evaluating tumors
  • Scanning the brain for damaged tissue, infections or tumors
  • Checking for diseases or conditions of the spinal cord

During an MRI scan, you lie on a table that slides inside a tunnel-shaped machine. The scan can take a long time, and you must stay still. For some people, the MRI machine can be a little noisy, so your technician may offer you earplugs.

Ultrasound diagnostic imaging

Ultrasound generates images of internal organs and structures via high-frequency sound waves. But unlike x-rays, ultrasound does not expose you to radiation. Ultrasound is used to:

  • View the heart, blood vessels, kidneys, liver and other organs
  • Monitor a fetus during pregnancy
  • Detect cysts or tumors in reproductive organs or other areas of the body

During an ultrasound test, a technician moves a device called a transducer over a part of your body. The transducer emits sound waves, which bounce off the tissues inside your body. The transducer then captures the waves that bounce back, creating a real-time image on a screen.

Advanced diagnostic imaging and superior quality medical care

With a range of leading-edge diagnostic imaging, the team at Charles River Medical Associates is here to provide precision diagnostics for your optimal health. But imaging is just a part of what we offer you and your family.

From checkups to managing conditions like diabetes, internal medicine, cardiology and urgent care, our doctors are here to provide the care you need, when you need it. And we practice with our absolute focus on you. We communicate openly and efficiently with you and your doctor and strive to provide you with every possible convenience, such as an on-site lab and 16 Metrowest locations to serve you.

To schedule an appointment, call 508-848-2190 or click here to use our online form.