CT scan vs X-ray: what’s the difference?

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CT scans and X-rays differ in image quality, radiation exposure levels, equipment size, and cost. CT scans use more radiation and produce clearer, 3D images, while X-rays are smaller and easier to use. CT scans are more expensive but both are important diagnostic tools. Doctors should determine which is necessary.

The differences between a computed tomography (CT) scan and an X-ray are many and varied, from the quality of the image produced to the amount of space required to house the equipment. Radiation exposure levels and overall equipment costs are also considerable differences between a CT scan and an X-ray.

CT scans and an X-ray vary greatly on the quality of the image they produce. As an extension of X-ray technology, CT scans take multiple X-ray images around the circumference of the scanned area of ​​the body. This technique results in a clear three-dimensional image from a CT scan versus an often blurry image in a flat two-dimensional view produced by an X-ray. In addition to clearer images, more precise images of specific areas or organs can be obtained using CT scans than can be seen with an X-ray.

Radiation exposure levels for the patient are an important consideration when a doctor decides between the need for a CT scan and an X-ray. CT scans use much larger amounts of radiation than X-rays, essentially because a CT scan is a series of X-rays rather than a single image. More intense radiation can place a patient in a higher risk category for cellular damage if exposure is excessive. For this reason, many doctors may opt for a CT scan only when absolutely necessary to make the correct diagnosis.

The size of equipment between a CT scan and an X-ray machine is another notable difference between the two types of imaging equipment. X-ray machines are relatively small and often easier to use than the contrast CT scanning device which is large and complicated to use. Typically a patient would have to lie down or stand in front of the X-ray negative to get an image produced. CT technology requires the patient to enter a large cylindrical ring that rotates around the body to form an image. The technology used by the radiology technician is also more challenging for a CT scan than an X-ray.

Due to the size and major technological advances of a CT scan, the costs related to purchase, operation and housing are much higher than those of an X-ray machine. A CT scan and an X-ray are two pieces of equipment commonly seen in most hospitals or imaging facilities even with the higher cost of the CT scan. Both technologies can be essential diagnostic tools for medical professionals. Any doubts about the need between a CT scan and an X-ray should be addressed by a doctor.

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