What Are the Advantages of a CT Scan?

Christina Edwards

A computed tomography scan, or CT scan, has a number of advantages over a traditional x-ray and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test. Compared to an MRI, for instance, a CT scan generally takes much less time, and it is less expensive. Patients with pacemakers and metal implants are also able to have CT scans, but not MRIs. One of the major advantages of a CT scan, however, is the images; CT scans are able to produce 3D images that may be clearer and more detailed than other imaging tests.

A CT scan is typically much faster than an MRI.
A CT scan is typically much faster than an MRI.

CT scans, also sometimes called CAT scans, are imaging tests used to help diagnose diseases, broken bones, and other medical conditions. One of the advantages of a CT scan is the amount of time it takes to complete. A CT scan will typically take no more than 15 minutes to complete, while an MRI can sometimes take up to an hour.

CT scans produce more detailed images than other imaging tests, and are generally less expensive.
CT scans produce more detailed images than other imaging tests, and are generally less expensive.

Another of the advantages of a CT scan is that they are usually a little less expensive than some other imaging tests, particularly MRIs. This typically benefit patients who have no health coverage to offset the cost of medical care. CT scans are not cheap, however, and the price can vary, depending on the facility where the scan is performed and the part of the body being examined. They are also usually more expensive than x-rays.

A CT scan takes 3D images of a person's body, an advantage over the 2D capabilities of traditional x-rays.
A CT scan takes 3D images of a person's body, an advantage over the 2D capabilities of traditional x-rays.

Patients with pacemakers are usually not able to have MRIs because the strong magnetic field used during an MRI can cause a pacemakers to malfunction, which can be very dangerous for most heart patients. Any metal implants in a patient's body can also cause image distortions during an MRI. CT scans use x-rays, so they do not share this risk.

Clear and detailed images, however, are often considered to be the major advantages of a CT scan. Along with images of bones, the high resolution allows CT scans to be used for images of soft tissues as well, including blood vessels. A CT scan takes 3D images of a person's body, unlike a traditional x-ray, so the images of particular body parts are not layered on top of each other as in a 2D image.

While may be a number of advantages of CT scans, they also have their disadvantages. CT scans use radiation to produce images; although the amount of radiation that a person is exposed to is relatively small, it still poses a risk. The radiation dose is much higher than most traditional x-rays, however. Some patients may also have an allergic reaction to contrast dyes that are used in some CT procedures.

Patients with metal implants and pacemakers can have CT scans done.
Patients with metal implants and pacemakers can have CT scans done.

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