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Magnetic resonance imaging is a test that uses a magnetic field and pulses of radio wave energy to make pictures of organs and structures inside the body. In many cases MRI gives different information about structures in the body than can be seen with an X-ray, ultrasound, or computed tomography scan. MRI also may show problems that cannot be seen with other imaging methods.
A computed tomography (CT) scan uses X-rays to make detailed pictures of structures inside of the body. A CT scan can be used to study all parts of your body, such as the chest, belly, pelvis, or an arm or leg. It can take pictures of body organs, such as the liver, pancreas, intestines, kidneys, bladder, adrenal glands, lungs, and heart. It also can study blood vessels, bones, and the spinal cord.
Positron emission tomography (PET) is a test that uses a special type of camera and a special test medicine (radioactive tracer) to look at organs in the body.
Nuclear medicine scans use a special camera (gamma) to take pictures of tissues and organs in the body after a radioactive tracer (radionuclide or radioisotope) is put in a vein in the arm and is absorbed by the tissues and organs. The radioactive tracer shows the activity and function of the tissues or organs.
X-rays are a form of radiation, like light or radio waves that can be focused into a beam, much like a flashlight beam. Unlike a beam of light, though, X-rays can pass through most objects, including the human body. When X-rays strike a piece of photographic film, they can produce a picture. Dense tissues in the body, such as bones, block (absorb) many of the X-rays and appear white on an X-ray picture. Less dense tissues, such as muscles and organs, block fewer of the X-rays (more of the X-rays pass through) and appear in shades of gray. X-rays that pass only through air appear black on an X-ray picture.
Ultrasound testing helps in the diagnosis of a wide range of diseases and conditions, including stomach problems, gallbladder or pancreas problems, and abdominal pain. During an ultrasound test, high-frequency sound waves, inaudible to the human ear, are transmitted through body tissues using an instrument called a transducer, which transmits the information to a computer that displays the information on a monitor. Ultrasound is used to create images of soft tissue structures, such as the gallbladder, liver, kidneys, pancreas, bladder, and other organs and parts of the body. Ultrasound can also measure the flow of blood in the arteries to detect blockages. Ultrasound testing is safe and easy to perform.
A mammogram is an X-ray test of the breasts (mammary glands) used to screen for breast problems, such as a lump, and whether a lump is fluid-filled (a cyst) or a solid mass.
Colonoscopy is usually the preferred test used to examine the digestive tract. However, there are several commonly performed X-ray tests that allow your doctor to examine your digestive tract from the esophagus to the rectum. These tests utilize barium or an iodine-containing agent that allows visualization of the digestive tract and a form of X-ray machine called fluoroscopy. Fluoroscopy allows part of the body to be studied in motion and recorded on a video monitor.