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What is the difference between an MRI and a CT scan?

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Quick Answer

According to Wentworth-Douglass Hospital, a CT scan utilizes ionizing radiation to produce an image, and an MRI uses magnets and radio frequencies to produce an image of the body. Both machines look very similar, but they utilize different imaging techniques to look inside the body.

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Full Answer

MRI stands for magnetic resonance imaging. It uses a strong magnet and radio waves to construct a two-dimensional image of the human body. The image is composed through an axis of the body. MRI scans utilize water molecules inside the body to enhance the images. Areas that have a lot of water are lit up on MRI images, while areas devoid of water appear black. For this reason, bones appear dark and black on MRI images, and soft tissues such as muscles and connective tissues appear bright and white, notes Wentworth-Douglass Hospital.

CT stands for computed tomography. It uses rotating X-rays to compose images of the entire human body, including the bones. A large tube that contains X-ray technology encompasses a patient and circles around the patient's body to gather data from every angle. The final image produced by CT scans is a computerized image that shows the patient's soft tissues and bones, according to Wentworth-Douglass Hospital.

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