Angie's LIST Guide to
Types of radiology
There are many types of diagnostic imaging. The most common is the X-ray or radiograph, which uses X-rays that transform into visible light to form an internal image. The image is then processed, making it ready for a radiologist's review and a physician's diagnosis. Radiography is most commonly used because of its ready availability, speed and low cost to both the hospital and the patient. Some risks are involved in excessive exposure to X-rays, so radiologists must wear protective gear at all times. Overexposure can lead to high levels of radiation, which enter the body and in turn increase your risk for certain types of cancer.
Fluoroscopy is another form of radiography, in which fluorescent screens and image tubes display images on a monitor. A radio contrast agent is often added so that real-time imaging of structures in motion can be displayed and observed. A radio contrast agent is often used to display blood flow in the venous system and any abnormalities that may be in various areas of the body. A similar type of imagery is interventional radiology, which is used as guided imagery during minimally invasive medical procedures, such as angiograms, renal artery stenosis and biliary stents.
Computed tomography, or a CT scan, is commonly used to produce a computer-generated cross-sectional image of certain parts of the body. This allows the radiologist to see cross sections of certain organs or body parts. The test is noninvasive and has good resolution, producing results quickly. This is important for stroke or head injury patients, whose physicians need answers right away about internal conditions.
Ultrasounds use high frequency sound waves to produce an image of soft tissue in real time. Ultrasounds are considered safe and used for many purposes, including obstetric imaging, narrowing (stenosis) of the carotid arteries and deep vein thrombosis.
MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging, uses magnetic fields and a radio signal to create an image. The result is 3-D imagery that displays axial, sagittal and coronal. The testing takes longer than most other radiology imagery but produces a more detailed look so that doctors can pinpoint problems more accurately.
PET scanning (short for positron emission tomography) is an important part of nuclear medicine and uses a radioactive tracer to display how certain organs react. Doctors order PET scans for advanced testing of the thyroid, heart, liver, lungs and gallbladder. Doctors also evaluate bones for cancers and other bone marrow conditions.
Training for radiologists
The person who performs diagnostic imaging testing is often referred to as a technician or a radiologist assistant. A technician assists the patient into the X-ray or testing area and helps with getting him or her into the right position so that the imagery can take place successfully. The films are processed and then sent to the imagery department so that a trained radiologist can see the results.
The person who reads the results from the imaging procedure is a radiologist, who must have significant medical training on various areas of the body, diseases and medical conditions. Graduation from medical school, internships, a residency and fellowship training in a particular area are required in order to be fully licensed. Some specialty areas include breast imaging, chest imaging, gastric, head and neck imagery, emergency imagery and musculoskeletal imagery.
Benefits of radiology
If you're ever faced with a type of minor or major injury to your musculoskeletal system, one of the first things your physician may order is an X-ray. Depending on the severity of your injury, the physician may or may not order more advanced testing, which might include an MRI or CT scan.
With diagnostic imaging, a radiologist can relay a diagnosis to your physician who can recommend treatment immediately. Services also are conveniently located at most major hospitals and healthcare clinics, so you don't have to be inconvenienced when you need testing done. Most insurance plans cover diagnostic imaging services but may limit the amount per fiscal year. Having your procedure covered by your insurance will help you avoid out-of-pocket health care costs.