CT Scan vs. MRI: What Are They, the Risks, and the Benefits

CT Scan vs. MRI: What Are They, the Risks, and the Benefits

Aug 01, 2020

Diagnosis plays an integral part in the treatment process. Medical imaging is at the forefront of diagnosis since the wrong diagnosis will lead to the wrong course of treatment. We are advantaged to live in a time where medical imaging has developed so much from the simple X-rays.

Now, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and Computed Axial Tomography (CAT), also known as Computed Tomography (CT) are the most commonly used types of diagnostic imaging in our emergency room near you.

We cannot downplay the countless lives that these diagnostic imaging devices have saved over the years. The information produced by the imaging centers near you that perform CT Scans and MRIs is directly linked to declining cancer death rates and higher life expectancy.

Both CT Scans and MRIs take cross-sectional images of the body’s internal parts but employing different methods.

When you are in our Altus ER in Baytown, our doctor will determine which type of emergency diagnostic imaging method is appropriate based on your scenario.

Let’s look at what MRIs and CT Scans are all about.

What Are CT Scans?

Computed Tomography (CT) scan uses rotating X-ray machines and computers to produce highly-detailed cross-sectional images taken at multiple angles. The X-ray beams produced by CT scans can view the various levels of density and tissues within an organ. This allows

the CT scans to produce a much detailed image than conventional X-rays.

After the machine takes the image, the images are combined by a computer into a detailed 3D image of the body’s interior structure.

CT Scans are typically used when taking images of:

  • The head (brain and its vessels, sinuses, inner ears, and eyes)
  • The chest (lungs and heart)
  • Skeletal system (neck, spine, and shoulders)
  • Hips
  • Reproductive systems
  • Gastrointestinal tract
  • Bladder
  • Pelvis

Often doctors use CT scans to find tumors and other masses that can be cancer. They are also used to determine the stage of cancer and to ascertain whether it is spreading.

What Are MRIs?

In a nutshell, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) uses powerful magnets, a computer, and radio waves to take detailed images of the interior of your body. The beauty of using an MRI is that it does not use ionizing radiation like X-rays, CT Scans, and mammograms to take the images.

The machine produces a magnetic field that lines the hydrogen atoms in your body. Some of the hydrogen atoms continue to move in normal fashion until the radio frequency waves are added. Then these atoms start spinning in the opposite direction.

When the radio waves are turned off, the atoms return to their normal position they emit energy. The energy sends signals to the computer, which converts the signals into detailed images.

There are several types of MRIs, including:

  • Abdominal MRI
  • Chest MRI
  • Pelvic MRI
  • Cranial MRI
  • Lumbar MRI
  • Heart MRI
  • Cervical MRI

MRIs are used by our doctors to diagnose an injury or disease, and it can monitor any progress you are making with a treatment. MRIs are versatile and can be used to take images of different parts of the body. It is even more helpful when you use it to diagnose soft tissue and nervous system issues.

Which Is Safer MRI or CT Scan?

Generally, MRIs and CT Scans are relatively safe. However, there can be some issues when using either of the scans. MRIs should not be done if you have aneurysm clips, which can be pulled off by the machine and can cause death because of bleeding in the brain.

If you have pacemakers or defibrillators, the magnets can cause these devices to malfunction. If you have any metal prosthesis in your body, it can be pulled out by the magnetic field.

On the other hand, CT Scans will expose you to some amount of radiation. The amount of radiation emitted by the CT scans is higher than the conventional X-rays and can slightly increase your chances of getting cancer.


MRIs and CT Scans pose some level of risk when used. The risks are brought about by how the imaging is performed.

MRI risks include:

  • Loud noises produced by the machine can cause hearing problems
  • Claustrophobia
  • Increase in body temperature during lengthy MRI scans
  • Possible reactions to metals because of the magnets

CT Scans risks include:

  • A small dose of radiation
  • Harm to unborn babies
  • Allergic reaction to the dyes used during the diagnosis


CT Scans and MRIs can view internal body structures. However, a CT scan produces images much faster than MRIs.

On the other hand, MRIs can be slower in producing the images, but the images are more detailed than CT scans.

CT scans and MRIs are low-risk imaging methods. Our doctor will determine which emergency diagnostic imaging method is appropriate for you. If you need an ER near you, call us at Altus Emergency Center in Baytown, and we will answer all your questions.

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