Diagnostic Testing

doctor reviewing x-rays at a diagnostic services office in new york

An Overview of Diagnostic Testing And What They Are Used For

If you have been injured in an accident, such as a slip and fall, work, or a car accident, then one of the first and most important things that you need to do is to get a proper diagnosis. Before you can start treating your post-accident injury, you need to make sure you have this diagnosis. The good news is, there are many diagnostic tests available that can help you get a clear picture of your injury.

Once you have been injured, you first need to meet with a primary care physician or a specialist such as a neurologist, orthopedist, physiatrist, or a chiropractor. There are many doctors throughout New York you can meet with who can help refer you to the proper diagnostic services. If you are referred to one of these types of diagnostic tests, then it is important that you understand what these services are and what type of injury they are designed to find.

X-Ray

An x-ray is one of the most common types of diagnostic tests. X-rays use electromagnetic energy to create images inside the body—primarily of the bones. However, x-rays are able to show virtually anything of substance including tumors and blood clots. However, following an accident, you will likely be getting an x-ray to look for fractures or broken bones.

MRI

An MRI machine takes images in cross sections of the body. This type of scan is typically used to find abnormal tissue. Soft tissue is much clearer on this scan than a CT scan, and physicians can easily see the difference between normal and abnormal tissue on it. Following a car accident, this scan can locate brain and spinal cord injuries as well as joint injuries. The MRI is one of the most advanced imaging tools available right now.

Pregnant women are not always good candidates for MRI scans, although many women can get a scan during the first trimester. Also, people who have tattoos should consult their physician before scheduling a scan. Dark ink can contain metal, so the physician will need to examine the tattoos to determine if you can get the scan.

CT Scan

CT stands for computed (axial) tomography. A CT scan combines computers and X-rays to create 360-degree images of the inside of the body.

After experiencing an accident, it is normal for the doctor to order a CT scan. These scans do an excellent job of imaging blood vessels, soft tissues, and bones, and the images can be created at once. Doctors often order these scans to detect issues with bones. CT scans are also used to find chest and lung issues and detect cancers. Pregnant women and children are usually not good candidates for CT scans.

Nerve Conduction Tests

A Nerve Conduction Test or Nerve Conduction Velocity Test measures how fast an electrical impulse is able to move through your nerve. This test is used to identify if nerve damage has occurred following an injury. This test is done with electrode patches that are connected to the skin in a non-invasive matter. Most commonly, these tests will be used to test the peripheral nerves. They are located along the spinal cord and outside the brain and are responsible for sending messages throughout the body. If you have been hurt in a car accident or sustained a spinal or neck injury following whiplash, you may have sustained nerve damage.

EMGs

EMG tests or electromyography is a test that uses electricity to record the activity of the muscles. If you have been injured in an accident an EMG can detect peripheral nerve damage, pinched nerves, herniated discs or inflamed muscles. If you have unexplained muscle weakness, a doctor may suggest this test to spot the injury. This test is performed by inserting a needle into the muscle, which is then used as an electrode to detect electrical activity. It is relatively painless and able to deliver a precise look at muscular injuries. This test is usually performed by a licensed Neurologist. If you have been injured on the job, make sure that your neurologist is rated by the New York Worker’s Compensation Board (WCB).

If you have been injured in work or automobile accident, make sure that you visit your doctor right away. After their initial examination, they will refer you to the right diagnostic services. There are many medical offices in New York that provide MRIs, x-rays and the other diagnostic tests for those who have been injured. These diagnostic services can reveal what the actual cause of your pain is, so you can start recovering from your accident and return to your normal daily activities.

What Is the Difference Between an MRI and a CT Scan?

If you have been in an accident, you might need an MRI or CT scan. You want to understand any procedure you go through, so you are likely asking, “What is the difference between an MRI and a CT scan?” Get the details, so you will have a full understanding of the care you will receive after an accident.

First, you need to know that you cannot just walk into a medical imaging facility and tell a provider you want an MRI or CT scan. It has to be ordered by a medical provider. Your neurologist, chiropractor, physiatrist, orthopedist, or general practitioner can order the scan for you. Then, your provider will receive the results from the radiologist and consider the next steps.

If you think that you might need a scan, it’s important to make an appointment with a medical provider. Then, the provider will examine you and set up the test if medically necessary.

Let’s begin by looking at what each type of scan consists of and then examine the key differences. Finally, you will learn what to expect when you get a CT scan or an MRI.

Radiation vs. Magnetic Resonance Imaging

As you now know, CT scans and MRIs use different technologies to create images. If you get a CT scan, you will be exposed to ionizing radiation. The amount of radiation during a CT scan is higher than the amount of radiation during an X-ray, so there is some concern about increasing your risk of cancer when you get a CT scan.

Everyone is not exposed to the same cancer risk, though. The risk depends on the dose of the radiation and the frequency of exposure, as well as your age, gender, and size. Also, the design of the scanner will impact your cancer risk.

An MRI machine uses magnetic resonance imaging. This is much safer than radiation. The biggest concern is the strong magnetic pull created by an MRI machine. The pull is so great that it can attract large items, such as oxygen tanks. Special care is needed to ensure that the room is free from metal before turning on the machine.

If the injury that you experienced during your accident will require lots of scans, the physician will likely recommend an MRI instead of a CT scan. The lack of radiation with an MRI makes it much safer for those who need to undergo multiple scans.

Weight and Scans

Many people are surprised to learn that there is a weight limit for both MRIs and CT scans. This is not due to the technology but instead because of the tables used. CT tables often support a weight of up to 450 pounds, while MRI tables usually only support up to 350 pounds. If you are not sure if the table will support you, talk to the referring physician prior to getting the MRI.

Getting an MRI or CT Scan

When asking about the difference between an MRI and a CT scan, you also want to know what the process is like. What will happen when you go in for one of these scans? Because the scans are different, the process is different, as well. Let’s take a closer look at each one.

What You Need to Know About Getting a CT Scan

When asking about the difference between an MRI and a CT scan, you also want to know what the process is like. What will happen when you go in for one of these scans? Because the scans are different, the process is different, as well. Let’s take a closer look at each one.

         What You Need to Know About Getting a CT Scan

If you have never received a CT scan, you might be a little nervous about the process. It’s normal to feel anxious when you aren’t sure what to expect. Get the details, and you will see that that you don’t need to worry about getting this scan.

Your physician will go over everything with you prior to the test. You will have special instructions depending on your specific case.

For instance, if you have to get contrast, your physician will likely tell you that you cannot eat or drink anything for 4–6 hours before coming in.

If you do not have to get contrast with the scan, it’s likely that you will not have any special instructions. You will just need to show up to the scan.

Once you arrive, you will be asked to remove all metal, such as jewelry. While most providers have a locker for you to put your items inside of, many people like to leave their valuables, such as wedding rings, at home.

You will get a gown to change into, and then it will be time to get the scan.

CT Scan Procedure – Getting The Scan Done

If you have to get contrast, you will either get it through a drink or an IV. If you have to get an IV, you will be asked to lie on the table and the IV will be inserted. Then, the contrast will start running through your veins. Expect to feel a little bit of warmth as it makes its way through your body, but it is not uncomfortable.

If you do not need contrast, you will still be instructed to lie down on the table. Depending on your needs, the technician might provide you with pillows to properly position you. Some technicians also use straps to ensure that patients don’t move during the scan.

Once you are in position, the technician will go to the control room. You will still be able to see the technician, but you’ll be separated by a window. Speakers are located in the control room and near the machine, so you can be in communication if needed. You might even get access to a button you can use if you experience any issues during the scan.

The scanner will begin rotating around your body. You’ll hear some clicking sounds when this happens. The sounds are not very loud, so earplugs aren’t necessary.

The scanner will take X-rays and transmit them to a computer. Then, the computer will turn the X-rays into images that a radiologist can read.

You will need to stay very still during this procedure. A small movement can make it difficult for the scanner to take pictures.

The entire procedure takes 20 minutes or less. Afterward, you will be able to get dressed. If you did not take contrast, you can go home immediately. If you did take contrast, the technician might monitor you for a short period of time to make sure you don’t have a reaction to it.

CT Scan Results

A radiologist has to interpret the scan and create a report for your doctor. This is typically completed within 24 hours. Then, your physician will contact you to let you know what was found during the scan.

What You Need to Know About Getting an MRI

You have likely heard some horror stories about getting an MRI, especially if you have spoken to someone who received a scan several years ago.

These machines have changed a great deal over the years. Newer MRI machines are considerably larger than the old machines were. Some providers even have open MRI machines. If you are feeling nervous, understand that technology has changed a lot, and you don’t have anything to be afraid of while getting an MRI.

You will feel even better about the procedure by learning more about it. Get additional details, starting with preparing for your MRI. You will even learn some tips on how to remain calm while in the machine.

Preparing for an MRI

You don’t need to do much preparation to get an MRI. The physician might ask that you avoid eating and drinking for several hours prior to the scan. Food and beverages cause the gastrointestinal tract to move, and that can impact the quality of the images. Also, food and drink are not allowed if you are going to receive contrast during the scan.

You will need to remove any metal you are wearing prior to getting an MRI. Again, consider leaving valuable jewelry at home.

Next, the physician will go over any metal you might have in your body, such as a copper IUD. You can still get the scan with some metal items, but it will have to be at a lower strength.

Taking the MRI Test

Depending on what occurred during your accident, the physician might order the MRI with contrast. Contrast, such as gadolinium, can be given through an IV. The contrast lights up during the scan, giving doctors a better look at your blood vessels, brain, and heart. Most people don’t need a contrast after an accident, though, since this is normally done to diagnose cancer or multiple sclerosis.

Whether you need contrast, you will change into a gown and lie down on the table. Then, the technician will either administer the contrast or go directly behind the partition to begin. Then, the platform will move inside of the machine.

It is important that you stay as still as possible during this, so your medical provider can get accurate information. Even the smallest movement can make it difficult for your physician to properly diagnose the injury you experienced during your accident.

While staying still is usually the first rule of getting an MRI, there is one exception. Some accident victims have to go through what is called a functional MRI. You might have to tap your fingers or complete other small tasks like this. Your physician might order a functional MRI if there is a concern that you’ve experienced a brain injury. These small movements allow the provider to see how your brain works.

You will stay inside the machine for 15–60 minutes. The MRI machine is loud, and while it is much larger than it used to be, some people experience claustrophobia.

Staying Comfortable While Getting an MRI

Loud noises and tight spaces don’t mix for some people. If that sounds like you, ask the MRI technician for earplugs. You might even be able to listen to music while in the machine. You will be wearing a headset and some technicians can pipe music in to further distract you.

Some providers are also willing to sedate their patients with anti-anxiety medication or anesthesia. Remember that you will need to have a driver bring you home if this is the case.

Getting the Results from the MRI

Radiologists are tasked with reading MRI results. Radiologists often write up reports within a day.

Once your report is finished, the radiologist will send it to your physician. Then, it’s up to the physician to share the results with you. You can expect the results within a few days. Remember, if you have an attorney representing you after your accident, you also need to provide your legal counsel with the report.

Who Can Order an MRI or CT Scan?

You cannot just walk into a facility and tell a provider you want an MRI or CT scan. It has to be ordered by a medical provider. Your neurologist, chiropractor, physiatrist, orthopedist, or general practitioner can order the scan for you. Then, your provider will receive the results from the radiologist and consider the next steps.

If you think that you might need a scan, it’s important to make an appointment with a medical provider. Then, the provider will examine you and set up the test if medically necessary.