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Diagnostic Radiology

What is Diagnostic Radiology?

Diagnostic radiology is a field of medicine that involves producing images of the inside of the body through a variety of procedures to diagnose and treat a condition. These procedures can be anything from X-rays and ultrasounds to magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) scans. Physicians who specialize in the interpretation of these images are known as diagnostic radiologists.

All diagnostic radiologists complete at least 13 years of training, including medical school, a 4-year residency, and most often, an extra 1 or 2-year fellowship of specialized training, such as radiation oncology or interventional radiology. The objective of diagnostic radiology is to diagnose an injury or disorder utilizing the latest tools and methods, such as X-rays, CT, MRI, ultrasound, and nuclear medicine.

A wide variety of illnesses and conditions can be detected and treated with diagnostic radiology. Nonetheless, the type of care you require depends upon the severity of your symptoms and your overall health. In general, patients with gastrointestinal issues, musculoskeletal problems, respiratory issues, unusual menstrual bleeding, cardiovascular issues, or cancers are most often referred for radiological screening.

Using the diagnostic images, your radiologist or doctors can often:

  • Screen for different conditions, such as broken bones, heart disease, gastrointestinal disorders, colon or breast cancer
  • Diagnose the cause of your symptoms
  • Monitor how well your body is responding to a treatment you are receiving for your condition or disorder

What are the Common Types of Diagnostic Radiology Exams?

Some of the most common types of diagnostic radiology exams include:

  • Plain x-rays, which includes chest x-ray
  • Computed tomography (CT), also known as a computerized axial tomography (CAT) scan, including CT angiography
  • Ultrasound
  • Mammography
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and magnetic resonance angiography (MRA)
  • Nuclear medicine, which includes tests such as a thyroid scan, bone scan, and thallium cardiac stress test
  • Fluoroscopy, including upper GI and barium enema
  • Positron emission tomography, also known as PET scan, PET imaging, or PET-CT when it is combined with CT

The X-Ray machine is the most commonly used technique of diagnostic radiology. This utilizes X-rays (a type of electromagnetic radiation) to create images of the inside of the body. X-rays are a non-invasive procedure that provides physicians with a helpful view of a condition the patient may be undergoing.

CT scanner machines are another common technique that uses the same equipment as X-rays. These machines create a sequence of cross-sectional images of the body. CT scans are commonly employed when a physician requires highly detailed images to study and detect the origin of the problem, especially on soft tissue.

MRI machines, the third most common radiology technique, utilizes a magnetic field instead of radiation to create images of the inside of a body. These are used for segments of the body that CT scanners cannot create clear images of such as the bones.

What is the Scope of Diagnostic Radiology?

When a physician needs to see further than on the outside of a body to look at what is going on inside, they turn to diagnostic imaging. Diagnostic imaging provides a non-invasive method for physicians to view inside the body and are capable of doing everything from tracking how an organ is working and determining the extent of an injury to monitoring joint motion as well as diagnosing disorders.

A diagnostic radiologist works with your healthcare provider to prescribe the best plan of action by choosing correct tests to be conducted. Your radiologist and their associate technologists explain your imaging results, and the radiologist will suggest proper follow-up tests and viable treatment options. Specialists and general practitioners often consult radiologists for the safest and most effective ways of treatment for a patient. Radiologists work in every specialty of medicine and specialize in every area of the body and are very important at times of medical diagnosis and treatment.

Diagnostic radiologists, through their extensive clinical work and related research, may also specialize in these radiology subspecialties:

  • Musculoskeletal radiology (muscles and skeleton)
  • Cardiovascular radiology (heart and circulatory system)
  • Breast imaging (mammograms)
  • Chest radiology (heart and lungs)
  • Gastrointestinal radiology (stomach, intestines, and abdomen)
  • Emergency radiology
  • Head and neck radiology
  • Genitourinary radiology (reproductive and urinary systems)
  • Pediatric radiology (imaging of children)
  • Neuroradiology (brain and nervous system; head, neck, and spine)
  • Radiation oncology
  • Interventional radiology
  • Nuclear radiology
Jill McAngus, M.D.
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