X-ray vs. ultrasound: Which exam for your symptoms?

As one of the most frequently ordered types of medical imaging, X-ray is often the first step in using imaging to confirm a diagnosis and determine treatment options.

When the cause of your health concern, such as pain or swelling, is not easily identified through a physical exam and consultation with your doctor, medical imaging, such as X-ray, is often recommended to get a look at the area of concern.

An X-ray uses a type of electromagnetic radiation to create an image. The X-ray source sends a small amount of radiation through a body part and an image is produced as a result of the ways in which different internal structures absorb the radiation. They are particularly useful for looking at bones and dense tissues in your body.

Your doctor might order an X-ray to identify injuries or deformities within bone, or to verify how bones are healing. They could be used to detect infection of the sinuses or lungs, obstruction of the intestines, gall and kidney stones, and foreign objects within the body.

X-rays are very good a looking at bones, however they don’t see cartilage, muscles, tendons, or ligaments very well. This means that for acute injuries like an injured back, knee, ankle, or wrist, your doctor might not order an X-ray.

In fact, the vast majority of injuries that doctors see are not from broken bones, but strains or sprains of muscles and supporting tissue. For these types of suspected injuries, your doctor might order an ultrasound instead. Ultrasound is very good a looking at the soft tissues of the body. Sometimes both and X-ray and an ultrasound might be ordered together, particularly for musculoskeletal (joint or muscle) concerns like a torn tendon.

Your personal medical history will help determine which type of imaging is best suited to diagnose your concern. In determining appropriateness, there are a number of questions you could discuss with your doctor. What are your treatment options? What outcomes could be expected for each option? How do the different types of imaging work? What are the risks? What happens if you don’t have imaging? What happens after your exam?

HOW DO I GET AN IMAGING EXAM?

Once your doctor has identified the need for an exam, you will be given a requisition form. X-rays are offered in the community on a walk-in basis at any medical imaging clinic, including 11 Mayfair Diagnostics locations in Calgary and one in Regina. Appointments are not required for general X-ray procedures; simply bring your form with you.

For ultrasound exams, once you have your requisition you will need to call our Contact Centre to book an appointment.

Your images will be reviewed by a specialized radiologist who will compile a report that is sent to your doctor within 24 hours, sooner for urgent requests. Mayfair Diagnostics is owned and operated by over 60 radiologists who are fellowship-trained in many keys areas, such as neuroradiology, body, cardiac, musculoskeletal imaging, etc. This allows for an expert review of your imaging by the applicably trained radiologist.

Your images will be uploaded to a provincial picture archiving and communication system (PACS) – this technology provides electronic storage and convenient access to your medical images from multiple sources, such as your doctor, specialists, hospitals, and walk-in clinics.

For more information about our locations, please visit our locations page. Please note that our Southcentre and Sunpark locations do NOT offer X-ray services.


REFERENCES

The British Library Board (2018) “Roentgen’s discovery of the x-ray.” British Library: Learning Bodies of Knowledge.www.bl.uk. Accessed December 20, 2018.

Government of Alberta (2017) “Adult X-Ray: About This Test.” www.MyHealth.Alberta.ca. Accessed December 20, 2018.

Radiological Society of North America (2018) “X-ray (Radiography) – Bone.” www.radiologyinfo.org. Accessed December 20, 2018.

 

 

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