CAT Scan vs. MRI Scan vs. X-ray

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Difference between CAT Scan, MRI Scan and X-ray

X-ray Scan, CAT scan (more popularly known as CT scan) and MRI scan are perhaps the three most commonly encountered doctors' diagnostic recommendations. Whether it is a Physician, Neurologist or an orthopedist, all rely heavily upon these scans to pursue their medical remedy for the respective ailments. Though we all are familiar with these words, most of us are unaware of the underlying difference between the three powerful medical technologies. Let us have a little insight into it.

Basic Technology

X-ray and CAT (Computerized Axial Tomography) scan techniques deploy the x-rays of the electromagnetic waves band for penetration into the body. In fact CAT scan is an evolved form of the earlier X-ray Scan technique. In CAT scan, X-rays beams are projected at different angles and sections and anatomical images are obtained through computer aided imaging. This imaging by sectioning through the use of waves is termed as tomography hence it has got its name.

MRI or Magnetic Resonance Imaging is a different technique altogether. It does not deploy any ionizing radiations as in CAT (CT). It is based upon the concept that there are millions of positively and negatively charged ions in our body which when subject to external magnetic field behave as tiny magnets which can be aligned using Radio waves. The magnetic field thus produced is detected by the scanner and forms the basis of information needed to plot the image.


MRI scan images the structure of soft tissues (with high water content) with real refinement. Hence it finds extensive use in brain scans, detection of brain tumors and is the favorite tool of a neurologist! On the contrary CT suits best for structuring solid tissues and bones. Thus CT scan is recommended for bones and solid tumors in abdomen and chest.


Overexposure to X-rays can always invite many disorders including cancer. Hence frequent CT scans must be avoided. Also the person accompanying the patient in the scan room must wear the protective vest. Except for those who have metal (magnetic) medical implants, MRI scan is safe.

CT scan and MRI scan continue to be a matter of financial concern as well. A single CT or MRI scan can put a hefty dent on your pocket. Therefore it is advisable to have these covered under your health insurance policy.


The Costs of these scans vary greatly across the globe however the relative cost trend remains invariant with simple x-rays scan being the cheapest and the MRI scans costing the most. The cost also depends upon the area to be scanned. A normal CT scan in US might cost you over 1500 USD whereas it costs you as low as 50 USD in India. A typical X-ray scan costs around one eighth of that of a CAT scan. The MRI scan rates are generally a bit higher than CAT ones.


The X-ray, CAT and MRI scan technologies have brought about a revolution in the medical arena. Some diseases are inevitable and also difficult to diagnose and cure; However with the advent of such elegant diagnostic techniques, it is certainly possible get around those if detected in the early phases. It would not have been possible to diagnose them otherwise. Though the scans cost really high in most parts of the world, their benefits outweigh the financial burden you have to incur for these.

May you never face any situation where you have to undergo any of such scans; always stay healthy, wealthy and wise!

Which scan is most useful?
  • CAT Scan
  • MRI Scan
  • X-ray

Discuss It: comments 3

I think MRI is better. The greatest advantages of MRI is the ability to change the contrast of the images. Small changes in the radio waves and the magnetic fields can completely change the contrast of the image. Different contrast settings will highlight different types of tissue.

  • Guest
  • Peter Hickey 68 years old wrote on July 2010

i've had 18 mri's and 3 spinal angiograms and they still can't find the dural fistula. I've told to come back in two years when hopefully the imaging is better.All of these were done at a prominent Toronto hospital. I've been in a wheelchair for over two years now unable to walk and I don't want to think about another two years in it. Is their another way of finding the dural fistula??? signed: totally frustated.

If a patient undergo a CT scan, does the patient have to wear proptective vest. ?

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