What is imaging?
Imaging is a range of tests used to create images of parts of the body. These can help:
- screen for possible health conditions before symptoms appear
- diagnose the likely cause of existing symptoms
- monitor health conditions that have been diagnosed, or the effects of treatment for them.
Imaging is also called radiology. Doctors who specialise in imaging are called radiologists.
There are many different types of imaging, such as X-rays, CT (computed tomography) scans, MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and ultrasound. Each imaging type uses a different technology to create an image.
This increasing range of imaging types provides health professionals with many options for showing what is happening inside your body.
Radiology technicians or imaging technologists are health professionals who are trained to use specific imaging types, such as radiographers for X-rays or sonographers for ultrasound imaging.
Is imaging the best option for me?
Like any medical procedure or treatment, imaging should be chosen to suit your individual needs. This means it shouldn’t be used routinely when you see a health professional.
For example, the first and most important step when making an accurate diagnosis of an injury is for your health professional to take your medical history and perform a physical examination. Imaging tests can help with a diagnosis, but they don’t replace this step.
Each decision involves weighing up the benefits and risks of having an imaging test.
|Early detection of problem||Exposure to radiation|
|Accurate diagnosis||Incidental findings leading to possibly unnecessary testing or treatment|
|Ongoing monitoring||Emotional stress|
|Contribution to choice of effective treatment||Cost|
|Improved management of condition|
In the end, an imaging test should only be performed if it’s likely to help with diagnosis and improve the management of your health condition or injury.
What are my imaging choices?
Common types of imaging include:
- CT (computed tomography) scan
- MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)
- nuclear medicine imaging, including positron-emission tomography (PET)
Each one uses a specific technology. They differ in how well they show what is happening in certain body tissues. For example, X-rays are often best at finding a break of a bone, whereas an MRI may be better for identifying a ligament injury. When your health professional decides what kind of imaging to recommend to you, they take the different strengths of each imaging type into account.
No type of imaging is always better. Each has different potential advantages and disadvantages, including exposure to radiation with some types of imaging. Your health professional should discuss with you which type of imaging is most appropriate for you.
- Government of Western Australia. Diagnostic Imaging Pathways. About imaging: About guidance. [Online] (accessed 30 October 2016).
- Choosing Wisely Australia. What is Choosing Wisely Australia? [Online] (accessed 30 October 2016).