Biology in the Laboratory

Seeing Small

Why is using MRI often “better” than using X-rays?

What distinguishes MRI from computerized X-ray scanners is that most X-ray studies cannot distinguish between a living body and a cadaver, while MRI “sees” the difference between life and death in great detail. More specifically, it can discriminate between healthy and diseased tissues with more sensitivity than conventional radiographic instruments like X-rays or CAT scans. CAT (computerized axial tomography) scanners have been around since 1973 and are actually glorified X-ray machines. They offer three-dimensional viewing but are limited because the object imaged must remain still. The main advantages of MRI are that it not only gives superior images of soft tissues (like organs), it can also measure dynamic physiological changes in a noninvasive manner (without penetrating the body in any way). A disadvantage of MRI is that it cannot be used for every patient. For example, patients with implants, pacemakers, or cerebral aneurysm clips made of metal cannot be examined using MRI because the machine’s magnet could potentially move these objects within the body, causing damage.


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