x-ray imaging

Often patients will be referred for a medical imaging exam for disease detection, injury identification, or to let doctors take a look at a certain part of the body in closer detail. Your primary care provider is more than happy to educate you about what these diagnostic imaging exams entail. Here, we discuss the differences between three commonly used imaging exams.

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What Is an X-Ray?

How do x-rays work?

Doctors commonly use x-ray technology to diagnose broken bones, but can also detect pneumonia, types of cancers, and other developing conditions.

What to expect during an x-ray

In this exam, an x-ray machine sends individual x-ray particles through the body, which are recorded as digital x-ray images on a computer. These X-ray images, called “radiographs,” are a result of a shadow cast between the x-ray source and the x-ray detector to capture images of different tissues or bones inside the body. This exam is painless, however it may require you to stand still for a short period of time which can cause temporary discomfort.

Length of x-ray exam

The length of the x-ray depends on the body part being examined; however it typically takes a matter of minutes.

What Is a Computed Tomography (CT) Procedure?

How does a CT scan work?

Doctors use CT scans primarily to look at the soft tissues of the body and various organs. A CT scan uses data from several x-ray images of structures inside the body and converts them into CT scan pictures. CT scans can also diagnose an infection, however they can also be used to guide a surgeon to the right area during a biopsy, identify masses and tumors, including cancer, and study blood vessels.

What to expect during a CT scan

During a CT scan procedure, you will be asked to lie on a table that slides into the center of the CT scanner. Once you are inside the scanner, the machine’s x-ray beam rotates around you. A computer creates many different CT scan images of the body, called slices, which can be viewed on a monitor by the radiologist. You will be asked to remain still during the exam to avoid blurred images. Often times you will be asked to drink a contrast for the CT scan. This allows the radiologist to highlight certain areas for a clearer image. The contrast will be provided to you when you arrive for your test. Radiologists analyze the CT scan results to help diagnose disease or injury to:

  • Soft tissues
  • Blood vessels
  • Organs

Length of CT scan

Complete scans usually take only a few minutes.

RELATED: What Are MRI and MRA Scans?

What Is Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)?

How does an MRI work?

MRIs are used to detect diseases or abnormalities throughout the body, such as brain aneurysms or tumors, but also are often used as a “second look” if other imaging scans provide inconclusive results. No radiation is used in an MRI exam. Instead, MRI images are generated by pulsing radio wave energy through the body to produce cross-sectional pictures of organs and internal structure in the body.

What to expect during a MRI

Before an MRI procedure, you will be asked to remove all metal to avoid interaction with the magnet inside the MRI equipment. Some exams require a special dye (contrast), which is given through a vein (IV) in your hand or forearm before the test. The dye helps the radiologist see certain areas more clearly. During the scan, the technician will watch you from another room to ensure you are comfortable and give updates on the status of the exam.

Length of MRI Scan

Depending on the area of concern, an MRI test can last between 30 and 60 minutes.

Types of MRI scans

Traditional (Closed) MRI

  • 23.5″ diameter
  • May trigger claustrophobia in some patients
  • Typical exam length: 30 minutes

Wide Bore (Closed) MRI

Open MRI

  • 36″ width, 18″ vertical
  • Ideal for larger patients
  • Ideal for claustrophobic patients
  • Typical exam length: 45-60 minutes

Open Upright MRI

  • Nothing in front of face, 18″ seat
  • Ideal for larger patients
  • Ideal for claustrophobic patients
  • Typical exam length: 45-60 minutes


About Imaging Services

UPMC Imaging Services aims to provide the highest-quality scans possible for accurate diagnoses, helping your doctor create the best treatment plan. We have state-of-the-art equipment and technology for high-quality MRIs, CT scans, mammograms, x-rays, and more. Our expert radiologists work on site for fast, high-quality readings. We have over 100 UPMC Imaging locations across Pennsylvania, Maryland, and New York, with convenient hours to make getting an image easier for you. Find a location near you.