Radiology

Radiology is a branch or specialty of medicine that deals with the study and application of imaging technology to diagnose and treat diseases. The field of radiology was born when x-ray was discovered on November 8, 1895 by a German physicist named Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen. Since its discovery over 100 years ago, it has evolved into a high-tech science with the discovery of state-of-the-art imaging equipments that create images of the body. Today, the scope of radiolgy is no longer limited to the use of x-rays alone, it now incudes ultrasound, CT scans, MRI, etc.

X-rays belong to the family of electromagnetic radiation which include radiant heat, radiowaves, visible light and gamma radiation. It is an inexpensive procedure but does not provide great detail of the body because of superimposition of various structures.

Ultrasound operates at much higher frequencies than audible sound, at a range of 1 to 20 megahertz (MHz). It uses short sound pulses that are transmitted into the body. It does not utilize ionizing radiation and can provide clinical information without significant biologic effects on the patient. This is particularly important for obstetric cases and in pediatric population. Another advantage is that it provides real-time examination making it possible to evaluate rapidly moving structures such as the heart and examine patients who cannot suspend respiration or those who cannot cooperate. it can also provide multiplanar views of images making it easier to analyze spatial relationships of various structures.

Computed tomography was discovered by British engineer named Sir Godfrey Hounsfield and Dr. Alan Cormack who were awarded the Nobel prize in 1979. CT scan is a procedure that combines x-ray images with the aid of computer to generate cross-sectional images of the body. This provides a detailed look at various paarts of the body, allowing the doctor to look at it from the inside.

Similar to CT, MRI or magnetic resonance imaging also functions to visualize the internal structures of the body. It has the advantage of providing greater contrast between different soft tissues than CT. It uses strong magnets and radiofrequency signals to obtain the images. Unlike CT and x-rays, it does not utilize ionizing radiation. Furthermore, it has the ability to image in any plane, unlike CT which is limited to one plane only, the axial plane.

MRI is useful for imaging the spine and brain, disorders of muscles and joints, and abnormalities in the heart and blood vessels. Intravenous contrast agents may be injected to further enhance image contrast and distinguish normal from abnormal tissues.

MRI disadvantages are the following:

– patients with pacemaker or any metallic implants cannot be safely scanned
– patients who are claustrophobic
– uncooperative patients or those who cannot avoid motion for extended periods of time
– the noise since a hammering sound is created during scanning so patients are provided with earplugs to muffle the noise
– cost

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