When Is Ultrasound Better Than an X-Ray?

When Is Ultrasound Better Than an X-Ray?

Before the invention of X-ray technology in the late 19th century, doctors had to cut open their patients to see what was going on inside. But today, modern imaging devices allow us to get a view of your bones and vital organs without causing any collateral damage. 

At Daniel Estevez, MD, in Lawrenceville, Georgia, we primarily use ultrasound imaging — not because it’s better than X-ray imaging, but because it safely shows us exactly what we need to see. 

Here, Dr. Estevez and Dr. Tania Lugo compare X-ray and ultrasound technology to give you some insight into when and why each one is used.

When X-rays are best

When you fall and land on your arm, an X-ray can detect whether there’s a bone fracture or not. A large device positioned over your injured limb emits beams of ionizing radiation that pass through your skin. Your internal tissues absorb the radiation at different rates depending on how dense they are. 

Soft tissues look black, and dense tissue, such as bones or even metal pins or plates you may have, show up as white on the film. Trained technicians and physicians can determine the type and location of bone fractures, as well as other conditions in your bones and teeth, such as:

But X-rays can also detect some problems with certain soft tissues in your chest and abdomen, including breast cancer, lung infections, blocked blood vessels, an enlarged heart, and digestive tract issues.

Getting an X-ray is quick and painless. You hold still while the technician presses a button to release the beam of radiation, and the process is over in a matter of seconds.

X-rays come with some risks, as the exposure to radiation can cause your cells to mutate, which may lead to cancer. However, modern X-ray technology emits very low doses of radiation, and the benefits far outweigh the risks — but not for an unborn baby.

That’s why obstetricians like our team here at Daniel Estevez, MD, rely on ultrasound for our pregnant moms-to-be.

When ultrasound is best

We just mentioned the main reason ultrasound is preferred over X-ray — it’s safer for pregnant women and their unborn children. But ultrasound has other advantages as well.

Rather than radiation, ultrasound generates images by sending soundwaves through your skin and into your internal tissues. Like X-rays, ultrasound is noninvasive and painless, but it’s also much safer. The sound waves bounce back to the machine when they encounter an object like your bladder, ovaries, or your baby. 

You don’t have to hold still for ultrasound imaging, and neither does your baby. In fact, ultrasound captures movement and sends it to our monitor so we can watch your baby move and observe blood flowing through your veins. Ultrasound can also be used to examine muscle tissue, tendons, and organs, such as your liver and pancreas.

We use specialized ultrasound devices and techniques for specific situations. For example, we may use a sonohysterogram to get a better look at the lining of your uterus, or a transvaginal ultrasound to observe the muscular walls of your uterus. 

Neither X-ray nor ultrasound is better than the other, but one or the other might be better suited in a particular situation. Because they each specialize in specific diagnostic areas, they reveal different information about different body parts. In many cases, X-ray and ultrasound may both be key components of your diagnosis and care. 

To find out which test is necessary for your condition, schedule an appointment with our team by calling or booking online today. 

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