What’s the difference between an MRI and a CT Scan?

If you’ve been scheduled for diagnostic imaging, you probably have questions. The first time you have any medical procedure, it can be a little bit daunting, but don’t worry! MRI and CT scans are non-invasive and non-surgical, and there’s very little discomfort involved. What’s the difference between these two types of tests? We’ll break it down for you.  

  • MRI stands for Magnetic Resonance Imaging. An MRI machine uses superconducting magnet and radiofrequency waves to provide detailed information about the inside of a person’s body. This kind of test is generally performed when doctors want to know more about the brain, skeletal system, reproductive system, and other organ systems. There’s no preparation necessary for an MRI, and while the machine is noisy and can make some patients feel claustrophobic, the test itself is not invasive or uncomfortable. MRIs take about 20 minutes for each system the doctor wants to examine.  
  • A CT scan is a Computerized Tomography scan. Using a sophisticated x-ray machine, a CT takes multiple detailed pictures of the inside of the body and transfers those images to a computer. The images can then be viewed from different directions and angles or rotated in a threedimensional model. The procedure is painless, but in some cases, a dye or contrast material is used to make blood vessels or organs easier to see. Sometimes this dye is injected, and sometimes it’s swallowed. CT scans are much quicker than MRIs, requiring only about 20 seconds of actual scan time for each part of the body being scanned. There is some concern about the long-term radiation exposure risks from CT scans, but at Salem Radiology, we offer a “low dose” option, which provides highquality images with the lowest possible radiation.  

Why would a doctor prefer one of these tests over another? One consideration is that in addition to taking a much longer time, an MRI is much more expensive than a CT scan. On the other hand, MRIs provide much more detail about soft tissue than CT scans, so if there’s a question upon review of the CT, a doctor might decide to order a follow-up MRI. Talk to your doctor about your options, and make sure you’re comfortable with the tests being ordered for your care. 

Whether you need an MRI, a CT scan, or some other form of diagnostic imaging, Salem Radiology can help. Established in 1974, we are the largest radiology group in the area and offer a depth of specialization among our doctors that you would expect to find only at major university medical centers. To learn more or schedule an appointment, call (503) 399-1262 or contact us through our website. 

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