The field of medical diagnostics was revolutionized by the advent of technologies like radiology and, more specifically, sonography. For the first time, it was possible to build up an accurate picture of what was happening inside the body without using any invasive procedures or causing any harm to the patient. It was quickly found that there was a host of useful applications for this exciting technology and medicine has never been the same.
Radiology is a broader term used to encompass a huge range of medical imaging techniques. Among these the most commonly used is radiography (otherwise known as X-ray) which works on the principle of targeting X-rays through the body until they hit a sheet of undeveloped film on the other side, at which point they will record the relative positions of the objects of different mass and density they have passed through. The most common application of this method is in diagnosing fractures and breaks in bones, though the addition of a radio contrast agent can make it suitable for study of systems such as the urinary tract or digestive system. It is now possible to view moving X-ray images on a monitor in real time as well.
Perhaps the second most commonly-used form of radiology is in CT (Computer Tomography) scanning, which employs both x-rays and computer algorithms to build a much more fine-detailed picture. It is used in the diagnosis of conditions in the brain, heart and digestive system among other applications.
Another common form of radiology is the MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scan, which has the best soft tissue contrast of all the current forms. This basically works by using strong magnets to align molecules within the area of interest and then recording the signals given off as they move back into place. The disadvantage of this mode is that patients are required to spend a long time holding completely still in a noisy, cramped space, and feelings of claustrophobia are common. This is the main form of diagnostics for the brain, spine and musculoskeletal system.
Sonography is a branch of radiology that many people are familiar with, even those who have not suffered health problems. This particular form of medical diagnosis uses ultrasound waves to create images of subcutaneous structures. There is a host of both diagnostic and therapeutic applications, but the most commonly recognized is in obstetric sonography where the technology is used to view and take measurements of a developing fetus.
Other applications of this technology include use by anaesthesiologists when locating needles, emergency departments for a variety of issues, gynecologists looking for masses or abnormalities in the reproductive system and many other possible uses.
Sonography can also be applied therapeutically, such as in the cleaning of teeth, physical therapy and the treatment of cataracts.
Since sonography and radiology began to come to prominence in the 1960s and 1970s, the medical profession has had a far greater ability to diagnose and understand what may be happening in a patient’s body. It is hard for modern day doctors, and indeed modern day patients, to imagine what we would do without these essential tools.