When Would I Need an Ultrasound Instead of An X-Ray?

When Would I Need an Ultrasound Instead of An X-Ray?

From minor scrapes to major accidents, millions of people find themselves getting injured and in many cases needing medical attention. With 97.9 million people seeking emergency room help for accidental injuries and about 25 million people going to their doctors for the same in 2018 alone, it’s no wonder different types of medical imaging are frequently used to detect the extent of damage you might have. If you find yourself needing medical imaging, which kind should you get, and when is one better than the other? Let’s have a look at the types of injuries that require imaging and review the advantages of both X-rays and ultrasound.

If you’re dealing with injuries that need medical attention, Dr. Rogers Walker and Walker Urgent and Family Care are here to help. Whether you’re a first time walk-in patient or you’ve been coming to us for years, we offer a variety of services to diagnose and treat illnesses, injuries, and many other conditions.

Types of injuries that require imaging

Though technically any damage to your body is considered an injury, the severity of an injury is the biggest indicator of whether or not it requires medical help or can be managed with an ice pack or bandages. Minor cuts, scrapes, burns, strains, or sprains are not likely to rise to that need, but if any of these are deep enough, do enough damage to your body, or directly affect normal movement, seeing your doctor will likely be necessary. 

Additionally, any bruising, fractures, or broken bones should get medical imaging, both to analyze the extent of the damage and to determine a method of treatment. If it’s an injury beneath the skin where the extent of the damage is not apparent, it should be imaged in some fashion.

Here are the advantages and disadvantages of each form of imaging:

X-ray advantages and disadvantages

An X-ray (also called a radiograph) emits low levels of radiation that go through the body to penetrate soft tissue. The results will appear in gray and black, and this reveals information ideal for fractures, broken bones, dislocations, misalignments and narrow joint spaces. In areas of the body with high levels of calcium (such as bones and teeth), the radiation emitted is blocked and will appear white on an image. This is why X-rays of fractures and broken bones will always show the bones in such stark whites.

X-rays are limited, however, in being able to detect issues with soft tissue, making it a bad choice for detecting inflammation or subtle bone injuries. 

Ultrasound advantages and disadvantages

Also called sonography, ultrasound emits high frequency sound waves through your body to capture images. The technology is actually similar to what the military uses to detect ships and planes. This method is perfect for examining soft tissue such as the bladder, gallbladder, kidneys, liver, ovaries, pancreas, spleen, thyroid, testicles, uterus, and blood vessels before making any decisions to determine the best course of action with inflamed or infected tissue. 

However, it can be limited based on the location of the tissue or organ you’re trying to diagnose. Things like undigested food can make seeing things in your abdomen more difficult and requiring things like fasting prior to an appointment. The device used to perform an ultrasound (a transducer) also covers a smaller area than an X-ray could, as it is designed for more precision. 

There are other imaging options designed for targeting various areas of soft tissue such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or a computed tomography scan (CT scan), which can target joints, cartilage, nerves, muscles, blood clots, bone fractures, and organ injuries. Each imaging tool is important for a doctor’s diagnosis, but only within the limits of what they were designed to do.

If you’re dealing with an injury and need medical help, we offer both X-rays and ultrasound in our facilities to diagnose them and help you recover. So, when you’re ready to get that injury seen, contact Dr. Walker and Walker Urgent and Family Care today.

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