How are x-rays different from other diagnostic imaging scans?

An x-ray is a diagnostic imaging procedure that can show your healthcare provider the inner workings of your body. It’s a fast, painless scan that can be used in a wide range of medical situations, such as diagnosing the cause of chest pain, checking for broken bones, and monitoring cancer growth. X-rays are the most widely used imaging procedure, but they’re not the only one out there. Here, we’ll dig into other common diagnostic imaging tests and see how they stack up against x-rays.

Computed Tomography (CT) Scans Vs. X-rays

A computed tomography (CT) scan is an imaging test that creates pictures of organs, bones, blood vessels, and soft tissues inside the body. CT scans use the same ionizing radiation as x-rays to produce images of the body’s internal structures. The major difference is that CT scans are a series of x-rays taken from many different angles. After the scan, a computer combines all the x-rays to create a cross-sectional image. Sometimes, a technician will take multiple CT scans and combine them to create a three-dimensional image.

Like an x-ray, a CT scan can help your healthcare provider diagnose and monitor the condition of your internal organs, bones, and other tissues. Because CT scans involve combining many different images, they offer a clearer view of your internal structures than a regular x-ray. CT scans are commonly used to diagnose and evaluate joint and bone issues, certain diseases and cancers, internal bleeding, and blood clots.

CT scans are typically performed at outpatient centers, and the process can last anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes. The procedure is quick and painless, so you’ll be awake for the scan. If you have the procedure in your provider’s office, they’ll be able to discuss your results immediately. If you have your scan done at an imaging center, a radiologist will interpret the images and send the results to your provider. 

The national average cost for a CT scan is $3,275.

Positron Emission Tomography (PET) Scans Vs. X-rays

A positron emission tomography (PET) scan is a diagnostic imaging procedure that helps a healthcare provider understand how your body’s organs and tissues are working. Before your PET scan, you’ll receive a radioactive tracer through an IV. The tracer will travel through your body and gather in spaces with high levels of chemical activity (this typically includes your organs). Any areas where the tracer gathers will show brightly in the pictures created during the scan. 

PET scans are commonly used to detect and evaluate:

  • Brain disorders and other brain conditions
  • Areas of decreased blood flow to the heart
  • Lung masses
  • Certain types of cancer, especially during and after cancer treatment

Unlike an x-ray, a PET scan maps out how your blood flows to and from your organs. Since a PET scan creates a picture of your body’s structures at a cellular level, it can be used for the early detection of different diseases.

PET scans are typically done at outpatient centers, and most people go home right after the scan. The procedure is painless, but your provider may prescribe a mild sedative to help with back pain or claustrophobia. After your PET scan, a radiologist will examine the images and send the results to your physician.

The national average cost for a PET scan is $5,750.

MRIs Vs. X-rays

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is the only procedure on this list that doesn’t use radiation to create images of the inside of your body. Instead, the MRI machine uses magnets, radio waves, and a computer to generate and display the pictures. MRIs are usually used to take pictures of the soft tissues in your body — such as organs, muscles, and nerves — not the bones. They tend to produce much clearer images than x-rays and CT scans.

MRIs can help a healthacare provider detect or evaluate:

  • Injuries or more severe diseases in the brain, spinal cord, and internal organs
  • Muscle tears
  • Herniations
  • Tumors
  • Heart disease
  • The progression of chronic health conditions during and after treatment

An MRI can be performed at a hospital or outpatient imaging facility. Scans can take 30 minutes to two hours to complete, depending on the reason for the procedure. MRIs are painless, so most people aren’t sedated for the scan. However, your provider may prescribe medication to make the scan more comfortable if you have claustrophobia or PTSD or it’s painful for you to lay still. After your MRI, a radiologist will interpret your scans and send the results to your doctor.

The national average cost of an MRI is $1,325.

Finding A Fair Price For Any Medical Imaging Procedure

No matter which imaging test your provider recommends, you’ll want to make sure you’re getting charged a fair price. Unfortunately, finding an upfront cost for your procedure can sometimes feel like pulling teeth. New Choice Health cuts through the conflicting information for you, so you know your financial responsibility before you have your scan done. Use New Choice Health’s comparison tool to find the best price for your imaging test today.

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