Radiographic Testing


Radiographic testing is a general term that describes different techniques for taking images that allow doctors to visualize the body’s internal structures. Images produced by radiographic tests can be examined on computer monitors, printed or recorded electronically. Although many radiographic tests involve radiation, they’re considered safe because the dosages are very low. (However, they are generally not recommended for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.)
X-ray beams (electromagnetic radiation) are used in many radiographic tests. Different parts of your body absorb X-rays differently. Your bones are the most absorbent, which is why they appear white on radiograph images. Less-absorbent fat and other soft tissues look gray. Air is the least absorbent, which is why lungs appear black.

Computed tomography (CT) scanning, also called computerized axial tomography or CAT scanning, is an imaging test that uses X-ray images and a computer to generate cross-sectional views, or slices, of your body. This test provides greater clarity and detail than traditional X-rays.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) does not use X-rays. Instead, it uses strong magnetic fields and radio waves to produce cross-sectional images of organs and internal structures. MRI signals vary depending on the water content and magnetic properties of different parts of the body, allowing doctors see differences between tissues and substances.

Services & Treatment

Doctors use several different radiographic tests to diagnose various heart conditions and disorders: 

  • A calcium-score screening heart scan is a type of CT scan that picks up calcium deposits in the arteries of your heart. It’s also known as a coronary calcium scan, calcium score test or a cardiac CT for calcium scoring. Calcium is one of several materials found in plaque, a substance that can build up in your arteries, causing them to harden and narrow. When plaque builds up in your coronary arteries, it can lead to coronary artery disease and increase your risk for a heart attack. (Learn the signs and symptoms of coronary artery disease.) A calcium-score test is one of the most sensitive approaches for detecting coronary artery disease before symptoms develop. However, it only detects hard, calcified plaque; it does not detect soft plaque. If calcium is detected, you’ll get a score that helps your doctor estimate the extent of your coronary artery disease and come up with a treatment plan. 
  • Chest X-rays use a very small amount of radiation to create an image of the structures inside the chest (your heart, lungs, blood vessels and bones). A chest X-ray is also known as CXR or chest radiography. This test helps doctors see whether your heart is enlarged, which can be a sign of heart failure, or if fluid has built up in your lungs. Chest X-rays also help doctors place pacemakers, defibrillators and catheters. Learn more about radiation from your X-ray exam (PDF, 36 KB).
  • Cardiac computed tomography uses advanced CT technology with contrast dye and special X-rays to create 3-D images of the moving heart, its circulation and great vessels (aorta and pulmonary arteries). This test has many names: CT coronary angiography, coronary CT angiography, CT angiography, CTA, cardiac CT, cardiac CAT scan, coronary CTA, multi-slice computed tomography or MSCT. After the contrast dye is injected and reaches your heart, the CT scanner takes thousands of cross-sectional views, or slices, of your heart. The scanner then puts the pictures back together to form a 3-D image of your heart. Cardiac computed tomography helps doctors detect plaque in coronary arteries, which is a signs of coronary artery disease. Unlike a calcium-score screening, cardiac computed tomography is able to detect soft plaque. It also helps doctors detect aneurysms or a pulmonary embolism and plan for bypass surgeryCardiac computed tomography is noninvasive, meaning it doesn’t require surgery or the insertion of catheters. Learn how to prepare for your CT coronary angiography (PDF, 36 KB).
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) creates moving images of the heart as it’s pumping, which lets doctors see the anatomy and function of the heart, great vessels (aorta and pulmonary arteries) and the sac surrounding the heart. Heart specialists use this test to help detect many conditions, including cardiomyopathy, heart valve disease, ischemic cardiomyopathy, pericarditis, pulmonary artery disease, some forms of congenital heart disease and thoracic aortic disease. Depending on the extent of the imaging needed, the scan can take about 30 to 75 minutes. Learn how to prepare for your magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) (PDF, 65 KB).
  • MRI adenosine stress test is a pharmacological MRI, which is for people who are unable to exercise or can’t increase their heart rate adequately. This test can help doctors determine if you’re getting enough blood to your heart when you’re active compared to when you’re resting.

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