Sometimes your GP might want to have an image of what is happening inside your body. This means that we will need to send you for an X-Ray or a scan. These procedures are explained below:
An X-ray is a widely used diagnostic test to examine the inside of the body. X-rays are a very effective way of detecting problems with bones, such as fractures. They can also often identify problems with your internal organs such as your lungs.
If you have an X-ray, you will be asked to lie on a table or stand against a surface so that the part of your body being X-rayed is between the X-ray tube and the photographic plate.
An X-ray is usually carried out by a radiographer, a healthcare professional who specialises in using imaging technology, such as X-rays and ultrasound scanners.
You can find out more about x-ray tests, how they are performed, their function and the risks by visiting the NHS Choices website.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a type of scan that uses strong magnetic fields and radio waves to produce detailed images of the inside of the body. An MRI scanner is a large tube that contains powerful magnets. An MRI scan can be used to examine almost any part of the body, including the:
- brain and spinal cord
- bones and joints
- heart and blood vessels
- internal organs, such as the liver, womb or prostate gland
If you have an MRI scan you will lie inside the scanner and you will be able to talk to the radiographer through an intercom and they will be able to see you on a television monitor throughout the scan.
At certain times during the scan, the scanner will make loud tapping noises. This is the electric current in the scanner coils being turned on and off. You will be given earplugs or headphones to wear. It is very important that you keep as still as possible during your MRI scan. The scan will last between 15 and 90 minutes, depending on the size of the area being scanned and how many images are taken.
You can read more about how MRI scans work on the NHS Choices website.
An ultrasound scan, sometimes called a sonogram, is a procedure that uses high frequency sound waves to create an image of part of the inside of the body.
As sound waves are used rather than radiation, ultrasound scans are commonly used during pregnancy to produce images of the baby in the womb.
Ultrasound scans can also be used to:
- detect heart problems
- examine other parts of the body such as the liver, kidneys and abdomen
- help guide a surgeon performing some types of biopsy
Most ultrasound scans don’t take long to perform, typically between 15 and 45 minutes. Your ultrasound scan will generally take place in an X-ray department in hospital and will normally be performed either by a sonographer. A sonographer is a specialist trained in the use of ultrasound, who will provide a descriptive report for the doctor to make a diagnosis.
If you have an external ultrasound scan, a small handheld device called a transducer is placed onto you skin, and moved over the part of the body being examined. A lubricating gel is put onto your skin to allow the transducer to move smoothly. Pulses of ultrasound are sent from a probe in the transducer, through your skin and into your body. They then bounce back from the structures of your body to be displayed as an image on the monitor.
Before having some types of ultrasound scan, you may be asked to follow certain instructions before the procedure, such as:
- drink water and not go to the toilet until after the test – this is to fill your bladder and may be needed before a scan of your unborn baby or your pelvic area
- avoid eating for several hours before the scan – this may be needed before a scan of your abdomen to lower the amount of air and gas in your stomach or bowel and enable your gallbladder to be better assessed
- depending on the area of your body being examined, the hospital may also ask you to remove some clothing and wear a hospital gown.
If you would like to understand more about ultrasound scans, when they are used and how they work, please visit the NHS Choices website.