A TV Guide to RADIOLOGY

The inside of a hospital seems almost familiar when you have seen it dozens of times from the inside of your living room. With the popularity of medical dramas, TV gives us regular
exposure to the world of medical treatment and testing. But how close is what we see to reality? A three-hour test takes a minute or two, and TV doctors have the luxury of spending hours with a single patient with an unusual illness. 

So, you might not want to take everything you see on the screen at face value. But being more familiar with medical terminology can dial down the intimidation factor when it’s your turn to be the patient. These days, a lot of diagnosis is done with the help of imaging tests.

To help you know what to expect—or fact-check your favorite medical show—here’s a glossary of terms:

Radiology
The medical specialty that diagnoses and treats disease using imaging tools including X-ray, CT, MRI, ultrasound and nuclear medicine.

  • Diagnostic radiology: Uses imaging tests to answer questions about what is going on in the body. 
  • Interventional radiology: Uses imaging-guided procedures to perform medical intervention less invasively. 
X-Ray
The oldest and most commonly used imaging test. Creates an image by passing radiation
through the body, where the energy is absorbed at different rates based on tissue density.
Bones absorb the most energy and show up in white; soft tissue is gray; and air, which absorbs no energy, looks black.
CT Scan (computed tomography)
A more sophisticated version of X-ray that produces detailed cross-sectional images—like slices in a loaf of bread—that combine to show a 3-D view. Faster than MRI, and produces higher definition images.

MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)
Uses a powerful magnet and radio-frequency pulses (instead of radiation) to send detailed
images to a computer. Excellent at imaging soft tissue. Takes longer than CT scanning (30 to 90 minutes compared with 30 to 90 seconds), but the greater scan time can also provide a greater amount of information.

Ultrasound
A relatively inexpensive imaging technique that uses no radiation. Instead, it uses high-frequency sound waves over a million cycles per second—a lot higher frequency than we can hear. It makes a picture from the echoes of the sound that bounce back. Best at imaging fluid collections and internal structures close to the surface of the body.

Nuclear Medicine
Produces images of physiologic processes (the body in action) using small amounts of radioactive material that stay in the body for a short time. To generate images instead of having X-rays or anything else going into the body, the radiation in the form of gamma rays comes out of the body from wherever it accumulates.

PET (positron emission tomography) scan
One way of recording the energy given off by radiopharmaceuticals. Often combined with CT scanning for a clear look at both structure and function of organs, tissue and other aspects of the body for more accurate diagnoses. 

Expert Advice
No glossary can cover all the situations in which you might need an imaging test. So in addition to knowing the basic terms, it’s important to be willing to ask questions. If your doctor is the director, you’re the star of the show. “We want to make sure your questions are answered and your fears are alleviated,” says Val Phillips, M.D., a radiologist at Gwinnett Medical Center. You might ask:

  • Do I need this test? (Be sure to mention if you’ve had a similar test recently with another doctor or facility.)
  • What will this test be able to tell us?
  • What are the risks and benefits?
“The mantra of radiology is ‘the right test at the right time for the right reason with the right outcome,’ ” Dr. Phillips says. An imaging test is intended to answer questions about your medical status that will affect your treatment and quality of life. Open communication with
your doctor promotes effective diagnosis and treatment. So don’t shy away from the spotlight: Speak up about any questions you have.

GMC offers all-digital imaging. Digital imaging is similar to taking a photo with a digital camera. Specially designed digital detectors produce an image that can be immediately displayed on a high-resolution computer monitor. The image is then transmitted and stored like a computer file. Advantages of digital imaging include: 

  • No waiting time for film to develop; images appear on a monitor within seconds.
  • Improves efficiency so more patients can be seen in a given time period.
  • Radiologists have the ability to manipulate images for a clearer, more detailed study.
  • Improved quality of images.
  • Reduces the need for retakes due to over or under exposure. Reduced retakes saves time and reduces exposure to radiation.
  • Images can be transmitted quickly and easily stored and copied without any loss of information.
  • No more dependence on only one set of “original” films. Digital images can be archived and retrieved indefinitely.
  • Increased quality of patient care.
  • Physicians and can view and discuss images with radiologists from any location with access. 
  • Patients no longer need to return to pick up film.

To learn more about GMC’s imaging services in Lawrenceville, Duluth and Hamilton Mill, visit gmcimaging.com. Or schedule an appointment by calling 678-312-3444.

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