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A comprehensive Guide to Choosing the Right Medical Scan near me

A comprehensive Guide to Choosing the Right Medical Scan near me
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Medical scans play an important role in modern medicine. They help doctors see the internal structures of the body, making them extremely helpful in disease diagnosis and treatment monitoring.

While there are different types of medical scans, they are not made equal. Each scan serves a specific purpose in diagnosing and treatment monitoring and has unique strengths and limitations.

Symptoms, risk factors, urgency, and radiation concerns are the main considerations when choosing the right medical scan type. 

Healthcare professionals consider the capabilities, strengths, and limitations of medical scans in deciding which is right for you!

This article will examine the popular medical scans, including their capabilities, strengths, and limitations. 

Understanding different medical scan types

If your doctors want to see the internal structure of your body, they’ll recommend that you do a medical scan. Some of the most popular medical scan types include:

1. Computed Tomography (CT) Scan

Image showing the process of doing a CT scan

CT scans (often called CAT scans) are some of the most popular scans today. A computed tomography scan uses beams of X-rays to produce cross-sectional images of your body, which a computer processes into detailed pictures. This provides detailed information about bones and internal organs.

CT scans are used to detect:

  • Tumours
  • Blood clots and circulation problems
  • Skeletal fractures
  • Lung issues

CT scans provide higher-resolution imaging than X-ray scans. A CT scan does not take long to complete. A typical CT scan takes about 10 minutes. 

To put this in perspective, a comparable MRI will take about an hour. This makes CT scans better in emergency situations. It is for this reason that a CT scan is the go-to medical scan for evaluating trauma.

Pros

  • Effective for examining bones
  • Does not pose any risks to patients with implants
  • Provide high-quality images than traditional X-rays
  • Can be done quickly, making the scan perfect for emergency situations
  • CT scan machines are more readily available than those of other medical imaging tests

Cons

  • Might not capture enough details in soft tissues
  • Uses ionising radiation
  • Often uses contrast agents, which may cause allergies

2. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

Image showing the process of doing an MRI scan

An MRI scan uses powerful magnets, radio waves, and a computer to create very sharp images of your body’s internal structures. 

An MRI scan produces sharper pictures of the body’s soft tissues than a CT scan. This makes it great for imaging the brain, spinal cord, ligaments, tendons, and muscles. 

Worried about the long waits associated with MRI scans with the NHS? A private MRI scan will help you avoid such long waits, giving you quicker access to the scan and scan results.

An MRI scan is commonly used to detect:

  • Breast cancer 
  • Tumours
  • Brain problems
  • Joint abnormalities

MRI scans do not use radiation. For this reason, they are perfect for patients who need frequent imaging in the course of their diagnosis or treatment.

Pros

  • Great for viewing soft tissue inside the body and detecting soft tissue inflammation
  • Does not use ionising radiation
  • Produces images in multiple planes, making it great for diagnosing complex conditions

Cons

  • Patients need to be very still for extended periods
  • Takes longer to complete
  • Expensive compared to other CT scans
  • Unsuitable for patients with metallic implants
  • Can trigger claustrophobic attacks as the MRI scanner is more enclosed
  • MRI scanners make a loud tapping noise during the scan

3. Ultrasound

Image showing the process of doing ultrasonography scanning

Ultrasound (aka ultrasonography or sonography) is a medical imaging technique that uses sound waves to visualise tissues, organs, and other structures in the body.

An ultrasound test is commonly used to:

  • Monitor the health and development of foetuses during pregnancy.
  • Diagnose medical conditions in several parts of the body, including the heart, blood vessels, kidneys, thyroid, pelvis, etc.

The test uses a simple machine. A portable hand-held device is placed on the skin. The device sends sound waves to the body and records changes in sound’s pitch and direction as it bounces off your internal structures. 

This enables real-time imaging, allowing healthcare professionals to observe movement and changes in the insides of your body in real-time.

Pros

  • Provides real-time images
  • Zero radiation exposure
  • The machine is portable
  • Relatively cheaper than other imaging tests

Cons

  • Limited penetration—cannot image structures deep inside the human body, especially if there are bone or air-filled obstructions on the way
  • Reduced image quality in obese patients
  • The quality of test results is highly dependent on the skill of the operator

4. Positron Emission tomography (PET) Scan

Positron emission tomography (PET) is an imaging procedure that uses a radioactive tracer to reveal the metabolic activity of tissues in your body.

A PET scan is commonly used to:

  • Detect cancer and evaluate cancer treatment.
  • Check for tumours in different parts of the body, including the brain, heart, lungs, thyroid, etc.
  • Check for brain disorders (such as seizures and Alzheimer's disease).
  • Diagnose coronary heart disease and detect areas of reduced blood flow in the heart.

While MRI and CT scans show the anatomical aspects of internal structures, a PET scan assesses functional aspects. For this reason, it can detect diseases earlier than MRI and CT scans can.

Know that a disease has to progress enough to affect a tissue’s anatomy before MRI and CT scans can detect it. 

However, since a PET scan detects cellular-level metabolic activities, it can catch a disease in tissue even before structural changes occur.

A PET scan can detect cancer about six months earlier than CT scans.

Pros

  • Provides functional information, allowing for early detection of abnormalities
  • Can provide whole-body imaging

Cons

  • Requires injection of radioactive tracers, which have associated risks
  • Expensive compared to other imaging tests
  • Not as widely available as other imaging techniques

5. X-ray

Image showing the process of doing xray scanning

X-ray (also called radiography) is the oldest imaging technology. Though more advanced imaging technologies have been developed, radiography remains the most widely used.

It uses a small dose of ionising radiation to create images of the internal structures of the body. The radiographer shoots a small dose of radiation through your body. The radiation passes your body and falls on a detector on the opposite side to create the images.

Dense objects like bones block the radiation, causing them to appear bright in the image, while soft objects allow the radiation to pass through, causing them to appear in shades of grey and black.

X-ray is used to detect:

  • Bone fractures and joint dislocations.
  • Scoliosis - abnormal curvature of the spine.
  • Swallowing problems.
  • Abnormalities in the chest, such as pneumonia or lung cancer.
  • Detect heart problems such as heart failure.

Because of radiation exposure, an X-ray scan is usually not recommended when you need a comprehensive body scan or frequent imaging.

Pros

  • Great for examining bones
  • X-ray scans can be performed quickly
  • Widely available 
  • One of the cheapest imaging tests

Cons

  • Radiation exposure
  • Not great for visualising soft tissues
  • Often uses contrast dye, which can cause allergies

6. Digital Mammography

Image showing the process of doing digital mammography scanning

Digital mammography is an imaging test that uses X-rays to create images of the inside of a woman’s breast for breast cancer screening and diagnosis.

In conventional (analogue) mammography, an X-ray machine shoots X-rays through the breast onto a photographic film plate that captures the beams on film cassettes. 

But in digital mammography, the X-rays shot through the breast are converted to electrical signals and transmitted to a connected computer to produce a digital image.

Thus, digital mammography produces better-quality images of the breast tissue to make it easier to detect abnormalities. Thus, digital mammography can detect very small lumps and calcifications that traditional mammography may miss. 

Pros

  • Produces better quality images for better visualisation of breast tissue
  • Reduces radiation exposure (in comparison to traditional film mammography)
  • Images can be stored electronically for easy storage, retrieval, and sharing of patient records
  • Can be integrated with computer-aided detection tools for better detection of issues

Cons

  • Uses ionising radiation
  • May not be readily available (compared to traditional mammography)
  • Cost more than traditional mammography

What is the best type of medical scan for me?

The best type of medical scan for you at any time depends on several factors. These include the symptoms you are experiencing, the part of your body to be examined, your medical history, etc. 

However, note that the best person to recommend any type of imaging test is your GP. So, always follow their advice.

Factors that determine the right medical scan types for you include:

Your symptoms

Medical scans are designed to visualise specific types of tissues. For this reason, the type of symptoms you are experiencing and the area of your body affected will determine the right scan for diagnosing your condition.

For example, if you have chest pain or difficulty breathing, your healthcare provider may recommend a chest x-ray to look at your lungs and heart. 

In the same vein, an MRI of the head will be recommended if you have head or brain symptoms, and mammography is the right test if you notice changes in your breast (like a lump).

Your medical history and condition

Some medical tests are not right for people with certain conditions. So, your medical history (including current condition and past treatment) is also considered when determining the right test for you.

For example, CT and X-ray scans that use contrast agents are not right for people with kidney problems. Also, people with metallic implants should avoid MRI scans because of the magnetic field.

In the same vein, except it is absolutely necessary, an X-ray or CT scan is not right for pregnant women because of the risk the radiation poses to their unborn baby. Radiation-free scans like ultrasound and MRI would be preferred. 

Always remember to follow your GP’s advice on the right medical scan type for you.

Radiation exposure

Imaging technologies like CT scans and X-rays use ionising radiation, which increases the risk of developing cancer when used frequently. So, when imaging is needed for frequent diagnosing or treatment monitoring, these radiation-based tests are not recommended.

When radiation is a concern, the best imaging techniques are those that don’t use radiation, such as MRI or ultrasound. 

Discuss radiation concerns with your GP, and they’ll advise you on the best scan for you.

Urgency

While some imaging scans can be performed quickly, others take longer. So, how quickly diagnostic information is needed also determines what medical scan is best.

For example, CT scans are better than MRI in emergency situations because CT images can be available in just 10 minutes while MRI results take over an hour.

Quick summary

Here’s a quick summary of the above-mentioned medical scans:

Medical scan types Process Purpose Pros Cons
CT (Computed Tomography) scan A CT scan uses beams of X-rays to take images of the internal structures of the body from different angles, and then a computer processes them into detailed images of the structures A CT scan is used to detect:
• Tumours
• Blood clots and circulation problems
• Skeletal fractures
• Lung issues
• Does not pose any risks to patients with implants
• Perfect for emergencies as it can be done in 10 minutes
• Easily accessible
• Might not capture enough details in soft tissues
• Uses ionising radiation
• Often uses contrast agents, which may cause allergies
MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) An MRI scan uses powerful magnets, radio waves, and a computer to create very sharp images of your body’s internal structures. An MRI is used to detect:
• Breast cancer
• Tumours
• Brain problems
• Joint abnormalities
• Great for viewing soft tissues inside the body
• Does not use ionising radiation
• Can take up to an hour to complete
• Relatively expensive
• Unsuitable for patients with metallic implants
• Can trigger claustrophobic attacks
Ultrasound An ultrasound uses sound waves to visualise tissues, organs, and other structures in the body An ultrasound is used to:
• Monitor the health and development of foetuses
• Diagnose medical conditions in several parts of the body, including the heart, blood vessels, thyroid, etc.
• Provides real-time images
• Zero radiation exposure
• The scan is relatively cheap
• Cannot image structures deep inside the human body
• Reduced image quality in obese patients
PET (Positron Emission Tomography) PET uses a radioactive tracer to reveal the metabolic activity of tissues in your body. Used to:
• Detect cancer
• Check for tumours in different parts of the body.
• Check for brain disorders
• Diagnose coronary heart disease
Provides functional information, allowing for early detection of abnormalities • Uses radioactive tracers
• Expensive
• Not as widely available as other imaging techniques
X-ray It shoots a small dose of ionising radiation through the body to create images of the internal structures X-rays is used to detect:
• Bone fractures and joint dislocations
• Abnormal curvature of the spine
• Swallowing problems
• Abnormalities in the chest
• Heart problems
• Great for examining bones
• Performed quickly
• Widely available
• One of the cheapest imaging test
• Radiation exposure
• Not great for visualising soft tissues
•Often uses contrast dye, which can cause allergies
Digital Mammography It shoots X-rays through a woman’s breast, producing electrical signals which a computer processes into a digital image of the inside of the breast Digital mammography is used for breast cancer screening and diagnosis • Produces better quality images for better visualisation of breast tissue
• Reduces radiation exposure
• Interates with computer-aided detection tools for better detection of issues
• Uses ionising radiation
• May not be readily available (compared to traditional mammography)
• Cost more than traditional mammography

Conclusion: right medical scan for your needs

There are different types of medical imaging techniques that help healthcare professionals see the internal structures of the body. Each one is designed for a specific purpose and has its unique strengths and limitations.

  • Mammography is used for breast screening, MRI is great for visualising soft tissues, while X-rays and CT scans are excellent for visualising bones. 
  • Ultrasound has the advantage of being a relatively cheap and widely available radiation-free scan for monitoring foetuses, while PET scans provide functional information allowing for early disease detection. 

While the different imaging techniques help in disease detection, the accuracy of test results also depends on the scanning centre you go to for the scan. This is where GetScanned comes in!

As a B2C marketplace for medical scans, GetScanned will connect you with the best facilities for diagnostic imaging scans near you. We list only the best facilities—accredited by relevant medical organisations, compliant with international standards, equipped with state-of-the-art equipment, staffed by highly qualified and experienced radiologists, and with a track record of delivering positive patient experiences.

Simply enter your postcode and the type of test you want, and we’ll give you a list of the top medical imaging facilities near you. We’ll also work with the facility you book your test with to ensure you have a seamless experience.

Book your medical imaging scan using GetScanned today!