Traditional X-Rays vs. Power Scans: Which Are Better?

If you have some medical tests coming up, you may be wondering which scans would be better – traditional X-rays or power scans. Which one would give your health care provider a better picture?  The answer is not always straightforward and depends on several things: your medical condition, how clear a picture is truly needed for a diagnosis, your age and size, and how many power scans involving radiation you have already had.

Generally speaking, if your doctor needs a very detailed or clear picture of your soft tissues, a power scan is typically better, but more expensive. If your doctor needs to see a picture of your bones, a traditional x-ray is best.

When a Traditional X-Ray Is Sufficient

A traditional x-ray (using electromagnetic radiation) of the chest is often clear enough to determine if a patient has bronchitis or pneumonia and delivers a much smaller dose of radiation than a power scan. Likewise, a traditional x-ray is still the primary diagnostic tool used to determine if someone has broken a bone or an obstruction in the airway or intestinal tract. 

When a Power Scan Is the Better Option

A CT scan (computed tomography) is considered by many to be the gold standard in medical diagnostics, providing extremely detailed pictures of what is going on inside you. However, a CT scan delivers a higher dose of radiation compared to other medical scans and the dose cannot always be adjusted to each patient. A CT scan is sometimes the better option, but may not be the only option.

How do you find out if a CT scan is necessary? Ask your doctor. Your doctor may be able to gather the information she needs from a traditional x-ray. In some cases, an ultrasound or MRI may be options. The trick is, alternatives are not always considered or offered until you ask.

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