An Essential Guide to Medical Radiology

Medical radiology focuses on imaging for healthcare purposes. Typically, this technology is used by radiologists, radiographers, biomedical engineers, sonographers, medical physicists, and nurses.

Radiology players a key role in medical care for a wide range of reasons. It is a diagnostic tool for numerous health conditions and helps with monitoring treatment. Radiology is also useful for predicting specific medical outcomes.

It has become a crucial tool for healthcare institutions due to its state-of-the-art imaging modalities. Today, hospitals, clinics, and other health institutions rely heavily on radiographers. Healthcare professionals need accurate tests to diagnose the problem and provide the proper treatment.

What is Medical Radiology?

In general, radiology is a branch of medicine that focuses on the use of radioactive material or radiant energy to diagnose and treat different healthcare conditions. There are two main types of medical radiology, such as diagnostic and interventional radiology.

Diagnostic Radiology

Diagnostic radiology helps doctors, radiologists, and nurses see structures inside the body. Diagnostic radiologists are qualified individuals who can accurately interpret such medical images.

These images are useful in terms of diagnosing the cause of a patient’s symptoms, monitor the response of the body to a specific treatment, and screen for various illnesses, such as heart disease, colon cancer, and breast cancer.

Common types of diagnostic radiology examinations include fluoroscopy, computed tomography, mammography, nuclear medicine, x-rays, position emission tomography, and ultrasound.

Interventional Radiology

It focuses on the use of MRI, CT, ultrasound, and fluoroscopy to help guide medical procedures. Medical images produced by these modalities help healthcare professionals in various procedures, including the insertion of catheters, wires, and other instruments into the body.

Research shows that interventional radiology is also helpful to surgeons who perform minimally invasive surgery that requires making smaller incisions. Healthcare professionals can use radiology to diagnose and treat conditions in all parts of the body without looking inside the body directly through a scope.

Most often, doctors and surgeons seek help from interventional radiologists to treat tumors, cancers, arterial and venous blockages, back pain, kidney issues, liver problems, etc. For instance, a common example of the interventional radiology procedure is a cancer treatment that includes the embolization of tumors using chemoembolization.

Interventional radiology can help streamline the procedure of angiography, angioplasty, and stent replacement. It also helps in embolization to control bleeding as well as provide support in Vertebroplasty, needled biopsies, breast biopsies, feeding tube placement, and venous access catheter placement.

Brief History of Medical Radiology

The concept of medical radiology began in the last decade of the 19th century. Wilhelm Rontgen, a German professor of physics invented the first x-ray in 1895. X-rays follow the principle of passing ionized radiation through the body and the projection of images on a photosensitive plate, which is placed behind it.

The plate detects abnormalities in the body based on different densities of tissues. In the early 1900s, scientists discovered that the use of pharmaceutical contrast agents allows for seeing organs and blood vessels.

Scientists tried various methods until 1921, and it is when Andre Bocage described the principles of moving the x-ray tube and the plate in synchronization to gain clearer images of the structure in question. The principle was called “tomography.”

Nuclear Medicine

A few decades later, in the 1950s, health professionals started to use nuclear medicine as a way to detect pathologies in the body. The method required health professionals to infuse the patient with radio-nucleotides. These nucleotides combine with pharmaceutical compounds and find their way to active cells.

A gamma camera was used to record these images. Radio-nucleotides allowed doctors to detect health issues earlier than other tests. Nuclear medicine was a great contribution to the medical field.

Sonar Technology

In the 60s, health professionals started using sonar technology. Previously, this technology was used during World War II to detect enemy ships. Sonar technology requires the transmission of high-frequency sound waves through a probe into the patient’s body. The sound waves bounce back to the probe and convert into electrical pulses that show health professional images on a screen.

Computer Tomography

Computed Tomography, also known as CT scan, was developed in the 1970s. Sir Godfrey Hounsfield invented CT scan technology in 1971. CT scan involves taking a serial series of body images and then putting them back together with the help of a computer to view internal structures of the body.

Nuclear Magnetic Resonance

Although NMR was discovered in the late 1930s, health professionals used it for the first time in 1970. In the 1970s, scientists published research studies on diffusion, relaxation, and intracellular water exchange, which led to the development of Magnetic Resonance Imaging or MRI.

Raymond Damadian, an American-Armenian doctor, published a research paper in 1971 that focused on the detection of tumors in the living body via NMR. Damadian stated that NMR can differentiate tumors from normal tissues. He developed an apparatus to locate tumors with body scanning. Damadian names it focusing NMR concept (FONAR).

Magnetic Resonance Imaging

MRI technology was developed in the 1970s. The technology is based on the nuclear magnetic relaxation times. MRI uses powerful magnetic forces to examine the alignment of protons in the cells to identify the problem with tissues in the patient’s body.

Anyway, scientists have made substantial efforts to improve radiology since the first x-rays, which were taken over 120 years ago. Today, health professionals can achieve more accurate diagnostic results.

Uses of Medical Radiology

Radiology is a versatile field that includes several different technologies to view the human body. The primary aim is to diagnose, monitor, and treat health conditions. Each type of medical radiology gives different information on the body part being examined or treated. Let us talk about the use of radiology in the medical field.

Radiography

Health professionals use radiography to diagnose and treat patients by recording images of the body. These images help a doctor to determine the presence or absence of illness, structural damage, and foreign objects.

The procedure involves passing the x-ray beam through the body. The internal structure absorbs or scatters the x-rays and the remaining pattern transmits to a detector to record an image for later evaluation. Some applications of radiography are:

  • Orthopedic evaluations
  • Dental examinations
  • Chiropractic examinations
  • Static recording or spot film during fluoroscopy
  • Placement of markers before minimally invasive surgery

CT

Computer tomography or CT is a noninvasive medical examination that uses specialized x-ray equipment to develop cross-sectional images of the patient’s body. Doctors use these images for a wide range of diagnostic and therapeutic purposes.

CT is an effective tool that can help a doctor to diagnose abnormality, trauma, and disease. It is also helpful in planning and guiding interventional procedures. Besides, it is an essential medical tool used by doctors to monitor the effectiveness of therapy, such as cancer treatment.

It is essential to use this medical tool appropriately. Otherwise, it won’t provide detailed information regarding diagnosis, treatment, and evaluation of health conditions in adults and children. CT scans provide detailed images and help health professionals to avoid exploratory surgery.

MRI

MRI is an essential tool that helps doctors produce images of the body’s internal structures. MRI scanners use magnetic fields and radiofrequency energy (radio waves) to produce images. The signal primarily comes from the protons in water and fat molecules in the body.

For instance, an MRI exam involves passing an electric current through coiled wires that form a temporary magnetic field in the body of the patient. The machine has a transmitter that sends the radio waves and a receiver that receives them.

Moreover, these waves are used to produce digital images of the scanned area of the patient’s body. Typically, an MRI scan lasts from 20 to 90 minutes. Sometimes, doctors use gadolinium-based agents to change the image contrast. Gadolinium-based agents are rare earth metals, which are given through intravenous drugs in the arm.

Fluoroscopy

Fluoroscopy is an advanced procedure that shows a continuous x-ray image on the screen. The process involves passing an x-ray beam through the body and the transmission of images to a monitor so that the doctor can see the movement of the body part.

Health professionals use this technology in a wide range of procedures to diagnose and treat patients. For instance, you can use barium x-rays and enemas to accurately view the digestive tract.

Also, a health professional can use this technology for catheter insertion and manipulation. The purpose is to direct the catheter’s movement through the urinary system, bile ducts, and blood vessels.

Sometimes, doctors can use fluoroscopy to help place a device within the patient’s body, such as stents to open blocked or narrowed vessels. Fluoroscopy is also used for the visualization of organs and blood vessels. It is likewise used in orthopedic surgery to guide the replacement of joints and the treatment of fractures.

Mammography

Mammography is another medical imaging tool, which uses x-rays to produce mammograms or images of a patient’s breast. It is the best tool to capture images of the internal structures of a woman’s breasts. If done correctly, this technology can health professionals diagnose breast cancer in its earliest stages.

Screen-film and full-field digital are two types of imaging used for mammography. Screen-film mammography involves passing x-ray beams through the breast to a cassette that contains a screen and film to produce images.

On the other hand, full-field digital mammography involves passing x-ray beams through the patient’s breast to a receptor that receives the radio waves. A scanner then converts the waves to a digital image and sends it to a digital monitor.

Advantages of Medical Radiology

Radiology has profoundly streamlined the medical field in the last three decades. With various tools that use radiofrequency waves, health professionals can accurately identify internal injuries, health conditions, and tumors in their early stages. This, in particular, is helpful for asymptomatic health conditions.

Radiology techniques and methods offer information reliably and quickly. It has also improved diagnosed imaging drastically to improve health outcomes for patients. Thanks to different modalities of radiology, health professionals can now achieve better results.

  • Fast and Accurate Diagnosis

Radiology has enabled health professionals to see a clear image of what’s going on in the body of the patient. The technology offers accurate imaging of the internal structures of the body that enables a doctor to better understand and treat a particular health condition.

Besides, radiology techniques have enabled doctors to predict the probability of a developing illness, such as cancer. For instance, a digital mammography is a great tool for screening breast cancer in women. It is no surprise to tell you that radiology is a life-saving tool for millions of patients across the world.

Moreover, mammography can also detect breast cancer 24 months before the formation of a tumor. With such detailed information, a doctor can accurately identify and implement a proper course of treatment based on the patient’s data.

Remember, advances in radiology have made all of this possible. Today, healthcare institutions are relying on radiologists to streamline their diagnostic procedures. Moreover, radiology helps health professionals to make informed decisions regarding medical treatment and surgical procedures.

It enables physicians to assess the progression of a particular health condition and determine the severity of the problem. When a doctor knows and evaluates the images and information obtained through radiology techniques, he or she can choose the right treatments.

  • Painless Diagnostic and Treatment

Radiology is a non-invasive and painless procedure that produces accurate diagnostic images. Most methods used by doctors and surgeons do not require any special preparation. For example, an ultrasound uses the transducer to produce images.

It is a comfortable and painless diagnostic procedure to obtain images of the internal structures of the body. During pregnancy, a doctor uses ultrasound technology to see the development of the baby.

Likewise, it is an excellent diagnostic tool to detect abnormalities or confirm the normal development of the baby. Ultrasound is one of the best radiology techniques to monitor an unborn baby in the mother’s womb.

  • Affordable Healthcare

Not only does radiology techniques help health professional to perform early detection of diseases, but they are also helpful in treating health conditions accurately. For instance, doctors perform nuclear medicine tests to detect heart diseases before they get worsen and require surgery.

When a doctor detects a health condition in its earlier stages, it reduces the likelihood of going for intensive treatments, including surgery. Everyone knows that surgery has more complications and usually cost more than conservative treatments. So, radiology is a key part of the conservative treatment methods that can reduce the costs of healthcare significantly.

Disadvantages of Medical Radiology

Radiology is the use of imaging modalities and procedures to produce images of the human body. These images can assist doctors to provide adequate treatment to patients. Doctors also use radiology methods for tracking any ongoing problems to help with treatment plans.

There are many benefits of radiology techniques, but at the same time, they have downsides too. One of the major risks associated with radiology is the development of radiation-induced cancer sometime later in life. It can also cause damage to the developing embryo or fetus.

When it comes to CT scans, a patient’s body is exposed to some radiation. When the patient’s body is scanned more often, it will be exposed to more radiation that can cause significant damage to the internal structures, including tissues and cells.

MRI scans likewise enclose lots of the body that can make patients of claustrophobia uncomfortable. An MRI scanner does not allow metals to go inside the machine, so patients with certain implants, such as breast implants and pacemakers can’t use them.

Moreover, the PET scan exposes a patient to radiation, which can cause cancer. However, this occurs rarely. PET scanners are not suitable for pregnant women because there is too much radiation that can cause damages to the developing embryo or fetus.

Furthermore, in ultrasound, some probe covers have latex that can cause problems for patients with allergies. Endoscopic ultrasound can lead to bloating, sore throat, and even internal bleeding. In x-rays, some contrast agents can lead to cancer development. Let us summarize the disadvantages of other radiology imaging methods in the following table.

Type of RadiologyDisadvantages
FluoroscopyIt does not provide detailed anatomic information for a variety of tissues.
SonographySonography is highly dependent on an operator. It produces images that require a sonographer for interpretation. Sonography is likewise expensive than radiography.
Magnetic Resonance ImagingIt is not suitable for children under the age of 7 because the procedure requires sedating a child. The scanner machine is likewise noisy. A doctor may also wait for a high-quality image.
Computed TomographyIt has higher radiation levels than radiography. The procedure most often requires oral or intravenous contrast. The CT scanner is more expensive than other types of radiology machines.
Nuclear medicineNuclear medicine uses a high radiation dose and may require intravenous contrast. It is an expensive technology.

Final Words

Modern medical radiology uses cutting-edge technology to streamline diagnostics and treatments. Although there are many benefits of medical radiology techniques, such as radiography, CT scans, fluoroscopy, etc. they also come with a few drawbacks. Doctors are advised to use these techniques with caution.

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