According to Dr. Catherine Phillips MD, “most people believe a radiologist only does x-rays, but, actually, they are responsible for imaging in all modalities. That includes x-rays, CT scans, MRI’s, PET scans, and much more.”
The American College of Radiology defines radiologists as “medical doctors (MDs) or doctors of osteopathic medicine (DOs) who specialize in diagnosing and treating diseases and injuries using medical imaging techniques, such as x-rays, computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), nuclear medicine, positron emission tomography (PET) and ultrasound.”
To put it in layman’s terms, Radiologists are doctors who diagnose and treat certain conditions using a wide variety of imaging techniques, like x-rays, CT scans, and MRI’s. They use these imaging techniques to diagnose everything from broken bones to serious heart conditions and act as important consultants to your primary physician.
Types of Diagnostic Imaging
Plain Radiography (X-rays):
X-rays were the first form of radiology diagnostic imaging. They were the only mode of imaging available for the first 50 years of radiology. Plain radiography works by transmitting x-rays through the patient’s body and on to a “detector” where an image is formed based on which rays pass through a patient and which rays are absorbed and scattered. Despite this test being the oldest in the field, it has incorporated many new techniques and become much safer for the patient. It is still a valuable tool in diagnosing various types of arthritis, pneumonia, bone tumors, congenital skeletal anomalies, and, of course, broken bones.
Ultrasonography is a form of medical imaging that uses ultrasound waves to visualize soft tissue structures in the body. Today, thanks to technological advancements, ultrasounds can provide three-dimensional reconstructions of these tissues in real time. Unlike other forms of imaging, ultrasounds do not expose the patient to ionizing radiation, which makes them safer. Because ultrasounds only provide images of soft-tissue they are used in obstetrical imaging (to examine babies in utero). They also are used to examine vascular diseases, internal bleeding, arteries, stenosis, and to diagnose and assess some vascular diseases.
CT scans use X-rays along with computing algorithms to create a nuanced and accurate image of the body. CT scanning has become the test of choice in diagnosing some urgent and emergent conditions, such as cerebral hemorrhage, clots in the arteries of the lungs, tearing of the aortic wall, appendicitis, diverticulitis, and kidney stones. Due to improvements in CT technology, including faster scanning times and improved resolution, these tests are used frequently in radiology.
MRI uses strong magnetic fields to align atomic nuclei, and then uses radio signals to disturb the rotation of these nuclei, then observes the radio frequency signal as the nuclei return to their original positions. This is what creates the MRI image. This is a complicated process, but it produces the most sophisticated soft tissue contrasts of all of the imaging techniques. MRIs are frequently used and are an important diagnostic tool to examine the brain, heart, organs, and musculoskeletal system.
Other Types of Radiology
There are other forms of radiology imaging, as well as other specialties within the field of radiology. However, the above techniques are the most common radiology processes. Many advancements are being made in nuclear medicine, to learn more about nuclear medicine visit the radiology information website here. To learn about interventional radiology, a specialty of radiology that uses advanced techniques not only to diagnose but also to treat patients, by visiting the Society of Interventional Radiology’s website here.