Types of Medical Imaging and What They’re Used For

Medical imaging is a vital tool in diagnosing and treating many medical conditions. There are several different types of medical imaging, each of which has its own advantages and disadvantages. If you’ve ever been perplexed about which imaging modality is being used for your situation, read on to learn more about the different types of medical imaging and what they’re used for.

X-Ray Imaging

One of the most common types of medical imaging is X-ray imaging. This modality uses high-energy photons to create images of the body. X-rays are able to penetrate through soft tissue, but they’re blocked by denser tissues like bone. This makes X-ray imaging ideal for looking at bones and joints. Common X-ray exams include chest X-rays and skeletal surveys, and in some cases are used to look at organs like the lungs. X-rays are often the first line of imaging when possible due to their wide availability, low cost, and quick turnaround time.

CT Scan

CT (computerized tomography) scans are another common type of medical imaging. CT scans use X-rays to create cross-sectional images of the body. This means that instead of seeing a single slice as you would with an X-ray, you see multiple slices put together. CT scans are often used to diagnose conditions like cancer, as they can show tumors that might not be visible on a standard X-ray. They can also be used to look at the brain and spine, as well as blood vessels. CT scans can be done with or without contrast, which is a dye that helps highlight certain tissues, such as nodules in the lungs. CT scans are more costly and time-consuming than X-rays, but they provide more detailed information.


Ultrasound imaging, also called sonography, uses high-frequency sound waves to create images of the body. Ultrasound is often used to look at soft tissues that don’t show up well on X-rays, such as the liver, kidneys, and muscles. It can also be used to visualize blood flow and assess heart function. And of course, ultrasound services are used far and wide by expectant parents to get the first glimpse of their developing baby.


Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses magnetic fields and radio waves to create detailed images of the body. MRI can be used to look at any part of the body, but it’s often used to investigate conditions of the brain and spine. It’s also the best modality for looking at soft tissues, as it doesn’t use ionizing radiation like X-rays and CT scans do. MRIs can be done with or without contrast, which helps to highlight certain structures. MRIs are costly and time-consuming, but they provide very detailed images.

While this is not an all-inclusive list of every type of medical imaging, it covers the most common modalities that you’re likely to encounter. Knowing a little bit about each one can help you better understand your imaging results, and why sometimes it’s necessary to get more than one type of scan.

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