Our Guide to the Differences Between CT Scans and MRI Scans

by | Feb 25, 2021 | MRI, CT

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Medical resonance imaging or MRI technology has proven to be incredibly helpful in diagnosing complicated conditions. Gone are the days where people were reliant on x-rays to understand what was happening beneath the surface, as computed tomography or CT scans and MRI systems have proven to be incredibly useful and powerful. They offer similar yet nuanced specialized imaging, allowing medical professionals to analyze soft tissue and organs and diagnose conditions.

Both CT scans and MRIs show cross-sectional images of the body, although they do so through different methods. CT scans take multiple x-rays at different angles, whereas MRI leverages magnetic fields and radio frequencies to produce highly detailed images. Since they use different techniques, they take pictures that highlight specific parts of the area being studied. Here’s what you need to know about the two:



Many patients are understandably concerned about radiation exposure when undergoing scans. As CT scans use multiple x-rays to create images, there is some radiation exposure, albeit minimal. Still, it’s best not to undergo a CT scan if you are pregnant. There’s no radiation involved in MRI scans, making them a safer alternative in this regard.



CT scans are used primarily to look at bones, although they also perform well when scanning soft tissues when used with intravenous contrast dye. Meanwhile, MRI scans are incredibly effective at identifying even the smallest differences in soft tissues, making it easier for doctors to diagnose conditions.



Generally speaking, MRIs are more expensive than CT scans due to the technology used. However, cost shouldn’t be a deciding factor when choosing between a CT or MRI scan as they serve different purposes.



CT scans are speedy, with the scan taking around five minutes depending on the area it is studying. On the other hand, MRI scans can take anywhere from 15 minutes to 2 hours, depending on the body part being examined.



Patients often feel comfortable during CT scans since the machine is spacious, which means that confined space isn’t a concern. However, some people struggle with claustrophobia since they’ll have to lie in a narrow tube for an extended time, causing them to feel anxious. Fortunately, companies have manufactured open MRI machines to accommodate such patients to provide more comfort during the scan.


Reactions and Restrictions

Both scans use intravenous dye contrast to help the machines distinguish certain features in the area being scanned. Although the dye rarely induces allergic reactions, it does carry some risk of harming the kidneys, particularly in those with existing kidney problems or diabetes. It can also potentially injure a very dehydrated person.

There are a few restrictions patients must keep in mind when undergoing either scan. For instance, some CT scans may not accommodate patients who weigh more than 300 pounds. In this case, they must be sent to a location with a table to support their weight. Meanwhile, MRIs have narrow tubes that may be tight on larger patients, although they can opt for open MRI machines instead. However, patients with metal implants may be affected by the machine’s magnetic field, disqualifying them from the scan.



MRI and CT scans are fantastic pieces of technology that have served millions of patients and doctors well. Thanks to these machines, medical professionals have offered accurate diagnoses of conditions and injuries and prescribed the appropriate treatment, helping patients recover and enjoy an improved quality of life.

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