• December 7, 2023

When Should a Patient Undergo Diagnostic Imaging Tests?

Diagnostic imaging enables healthcare professionals to peer inside the body without invasive procedures. This form of testing includes various techniques, including X-ray imaging, CT scans, MRI scans, and ultrasound procedures. Each of these has its unique methods of operation and uses. With these tools, doctors can observe the internal workings of the human body in pursuit of accurate diagnoses.

What Are Diagnostic Imaging Tests?

Diagnostic imaging tests refer to non-invasive procedures that create images of the body’s interior. Each type specializes in imaging different aspects of the body. Some deal with bones, such as X-rays, while others, like MRI scans, provide detailed images of soft tissues. There’s also ultrasound, chiefly used for analyzing fetal development and observing organs in real time.

How Do These Tests Work?

The inner workings of diagnostic imaging tests may seem rather complex, but they can be distilled down to several essential elements. Here’s an overview of how the four primary types of diagnostic imaging tests work:


  • X-rays work by projecting a controlled amount of X-ray radiation.
  • This radiation then travels through the body and gets differentially absorbed by different tissues based on their densities.
  • Dense tissues like bones absorb more radiation and thus appear white on the X-ray film. In contrast, less dense tissues absorb less radiation and appear in shades of gray.
  • The remaining X-rays fall on the film or detector, creating an image that represents the “shadow” of the tissues.

Computed Tomography (CT) Scans

  • CT scans also use X-ray radiation, similar to traditional X-rays.
  • However, unlike standard X-rays, CT scanners rotate around the body, taking images from different angles.
  • These images are then processed using a computer to create a comprehensive, cross-sectional body view, offering more detailed visuals.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Scans

  • MRI technology uses powerful magnetic fields and radiofrequency pulses.
  • The magnetic field aligns the protons, a type of particle found in the body’s water molecules, in a certain direction.
  • The radiofrequency pulses then temporarily disturb this alignment. Once the pulse is turned off, the protons return to their original alignment, releasing energy as they do.
  • An antenna, known as a coil, receives the energy signal, and a computer analyzes this signal to produce an intricate image of the body’s interior.

Ultrasound Scans

  • Ultrasounds use high-frequency sound waves that are beyond the range of human hearing.
  • An ultrasound transducer, or probe, sends sound waves into the body.
  • These waves then bounce off tissues and return to the transducer, creating echoes.
  • The transducer receives these echoes and converts them into electrical signals. A computer then processes these signals to form an image.

When Should a Patient Undergo Diagnostic Imaging Tests?

Diagnostic Imaging tests are not performed arbitrarily. Several conditions call for these tests. Here are a few examples:

Assessing Symptoms and Health Conditions

If a patient presents with symptoms that suggest a particular health condition, such as unexplained pain, occasionally imaging tests like those in general radiology might be necessary for pinpointing the source of the problem or to look for signs of certain diseases such as cancer.

Routine Health Check-ups

Depending on age and risk factors, some diagnostic imaging tests may be a part of routine screening. For example, women over 40 might have regular mammograms to screen for breast cancer.

Patient Age and Health Status

The requirements for diagnostic imaging change with age and health status. For instance, older people are more susceptible to conditions such as osteoporosis that require routine X-rays. Moreover, pregnant women need periodic ultrasounds to monitor fetal development and health.

Follow-up to Previous Treatments or Surgeries

Patient management, particularly after treatments or surgeries, sometimes necessitates diagnostic imaging. These tests can help assess how the body responds to treatment or healing after surgery.

Understanding the Results of Diagnostic Imaging Tests

After undergoing an imaging test, the next step is to understand what the results mean.

Interpreting the Results

A radiologist, a doctor specializing in imaging studies, will review and interpret your scans. They examine the images and write a detailed report about their findings that will be sent to your doctor. Your doctor will then discuss these results with you and explain what they mean for your health.

False Positives and Errors

False positives are outcomes where the test wrongly indicates the presence of a disease. Conversely, a false negative is the observance of normal findings when, in reality, a disease is present. This is why it is essential to ensure your imaging center uses trusted procedures, like that offered within Austin Imaging, an example of a high standard in diagnostics.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor about Diagnostic Imaging

As a patient, you have the right to know the specifics of any medical procedure you will undergo. Here are some questions you can ask about diagnostic imaging:

What Will the Test Show?

Knowing what to expect from the results can help you better understand your health condition. Your doctor should explain what the aim of the test is and what the possible outcomes could be.

What are The Risks?

Diagnostic imaging tests are generally considered safe but still carry minimal risks. Understanding the risks associated with the specific type of imaging test can help you make informed decisions about your health.

How Should I Prepare for The Test?

Depending on the specific type of test, there may be special instructions like fasting or avoiding certain medications. Knowing the preparation steps can help ensure the test goes smoothly and produces accurate results.


Diagnostic imaging plays a vital role in modern medicine. It helps physicians get a clear view of the body’s internal structures, enabling them to make accurate diagnoses and plan appropriate treatment. As a patient, understanding when these tests are necessary, what to expect, and how to interpret the results can empower you to actively participate in your healthcare journey.