What Are Medical Imaging Sciences?

Debra Barnhart

Medical imaging sciences are key to helping doctors diagnose and treat medical conditions. The main types of medical imaging science are radiography, nuclear medicine imaging — a category of radiography, and sonography. Endoscopy and thermography are two other forms of medical photography. Biological engineers, computer scientists and medical scientists are always working to improve medical technology and methods for diagnosing and fighting disease.

Medical imaging specialists inspect X-rays.
Medical imaging specialists inspect X-rays.

Radiographic imaging produces x-rays, mammograms, computed tomography (CT) scans, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Researchers in radiology and medical specialists develop new imaging methods and ways to interpret images. One of the biggest advances in radiography was the introduction of computed tomography in 1972. X-rays provide a one-angle view, while computed tomography offers multiple angles that can be combined into one image. Initially used for scanning the brain, computed tomography is now utilized for photographing all areas of the human body.

An MRI machine, which is used for medical imaging.
An MRI machine, which is used for medical imaging.

Nuclear imaging is conducted by administering radiopharmaceuticals and using a gamma camera to photograph an area of the body. Nuclear imaging technologists use computers to refine the images so that doctors can diagnose a host of medical problems, including problems with thyroid and heart function or the presence of tumors. Many diseases can also be treated with nuclear medicine techniques.

Endoscopy is a branch of medical imaging.
Endoscopy is a branch of medical imaging.

Nuclear medicine specialists use radiopharmaceuticals. These pharmaceuticals are compounds formed from radionuclides, which are atoms with unstable nuclei. Nuclear medicine can examine the metabolic processes that occur in the human body. The research conducted by nuclear medicine scientists has contributed to many advances in the field. Developments in nuclear medicine have led to new treatments for leukemia and lymphoma, and some experts claim that these treatments are less costly and have higher remission rates.

Medical imaging often allows doctors to make a diagnosis without invasive testing.
Medical imaging often allows doctors to make a diagnosis without invasive testing.

Ultrasound is non-invasive, does not emit radiation, and is a popular area for research in the medical imaging sciences. Unlike many other medical imaging sciences that use radiation, sonography uses high frequency sound waves to photograph or videotape the human body. Images are formed when sound echoes bounce back. This method of forming images is very much like the way that bats see in the dark. Sonography is most often associated with obstetric and gynecologic medicine, but it is also used to photograph the abdomen.

Medical imaging sciences include radiography, nuclear medicine imaging, and sonography.
Medical imaging sciences include radiography, nuclear medicine imaging, and sonography.

Endoscopy has a long history, having been developed in 1806.The endoscopy devices commonly used in 2011 are composed of a camera mounted on a flexible tube. This form of imaging lets physicians see inside the body. Most times the endoscopy is inserted through a body cavity, but it can also be introduced through a small incision. This allows doctors to see well enough to diagnose a problem and sometimes repair it.

Medical thermography is another type of medical imaging that uses infrared radiation for measuring body heat. Scientists have discovered that diseased areas in the body often produce more heat due to increased circulation to the disease site. This form of imaging is typically utilized in combination with other techniques in the medical imaging sciences.

Dentists may use several different types of medical imaging to get a full picture of the situation below the gum line.
Dentists may use several different types of medical imaging to get a full picture of the situation below the gum line.

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