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There are many different tools that veterinarians can use to help diagnose and treat your pet. Radiology includes radiographs (x-rays), Ultrasound, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), and many other modalities. Each of these is very different, and has their benefits and limits.
Projection Radiographs (Traditional X-rays):
When we think about x-rays, this usually involves a single two dimensional image. This works by producing x-ray radiation, sending it through our patient, then whatever is not blocked or absorbed by the patient is passed on and absorbed by an x-ray film. Today, most practices have a digital system which allows for excellent images and fast results.
Radiographs are excellent for evaluating bones or any high density structure. Our most common use for them is to view the bones of limbs and joints. Radiographs allow for identification of any bony fracture, trauma or degenerative changes (arthritis). However, radiographs are not good at evaluating soft tissue structures such as muscles, ligaments, and tendons.
They can also be useful for evaluating the chest and abdomen, but can be limiting for many reasons. The heart is a complex organ, and often requires a more precise test (echocardiogram) to evaluate its function. The abdomen is filled with very complex small organs (kidneys, liver, spleen, pancreas, etc.). While their outline is often visible on radiographs, an ultrasound is often required to further assess their structure.
Based on your pet’s symptoms, history, and physical exam; a radiograph may be all your doctor needs to treat them. However, it’s not uncommon that a radiograph only rules out serious conditions, and an ultrasound is required to further diagnose your pet.
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