Computed Tomography scans and Magnetic Resonance Imaging scans both provide diagnostic images of the inside of your body. However, they accomplish this important task in very different ways! Unsurprisingly, a lot of patients are confused when it comes to the difference between an MRI and a CT scan, so today we’re taking some time to break down the differences between these popular imaging scans.
CT scans are most commonly used to view bone injuries, problems in the lungs or chest, and for detecting cancer. MRI’s, on the other hand, are better suited for examining soft tissue injuries, particularly in the ligaments or tendons. They can also detect spinal cord injuries and brain tumors.
CT’s are generally less expensive than MRI’s. A CT scan can cost anywhere between $1,200 and $3,200, whereas MRI’s can range anywhere from $1,200 to $4,000. It’s worth noting, however, that most insurances cover part (if not all) of the costs associated with either procedure, so it’s unlikely that as a patient you would have to foot the entire bill for an MRI or a CT!
One of the biggest differences between an MRI and a CT scan is the amount of radiation patients are exposed to while undergoing the procedure. A CT scan utilizes x-ray technology in order to produce diagnostic images, which exposes patients to low but significant amounts of radiation. Constant exposure to high levels of radiation increases the risk of cancer, which is why patients are advised against unnecessary CT scans. MRI’s, on the other hand, use radio waves and powerful magnets to produce diagnostic images, so the patient isn’t exposed to any radiation at all during the procedure!
A big benefit of CT scans (and why they’re more commonly used in emergency rooms or urgent medical situations) is their quick scan time! While MRI’s can take anywhere from 15 minutes to 2 hours to perform, most CT scans are usually completed within 5 minutes – and the actual scan time can be less than 30 seconds. This is a huge benefit for patients who deal with claustrophobia or anxiety, since their time in the machine is so much shorter.
Each scan has its limitations! CT’s are great for injuries related to bone and can pinpoint the size and location of tumors, but they’re not as easily equipped for getting multiple angles without moving the patient. While MRI’s can produce images in any plane, they have more restrictions for patients. Patients with cardiac pacemakers, tattoos, and metal implants are sometimes unable to have the procedure. Patients can get a CT scan regardless of metal implants, but anyone who weighs over 450 pounds may not physically fit inside the scanner or may be over the weight limit for the table. MRI’s provide open options that accommodate heavier patients.
MRI’s and CT scans are both incredibly valuable diagnostic imaging procedures, but based on your specific circumstances or what your doctor is looking to analyze one procedure may be better than the other for your needs. Our team is here to counsel our patients on their best imaging options, so if you ever find yourself in need of a CT or an MRI in Manhattan, schedule an appointment with us!