Everyday illnesses, such as strep throat or a urinary tract infection, can be diagnosed with a throat swab or urine test. Others diseases, such as diabetes, can often be diagnosed with a simple blood test.
But some health conditions require imaging. And that’s when you might be sent to the Radiology Department.
Radiology is the branch of medicine that involves imaging services. At Stormont Vail Health, we use many different types of imaging equipment and exams to look at the inside of your body to see how your body is functioning.
Our Treatments & Services
Diagnostic RadiologyOne of the most common tests we perform is an X-ray. Ionizing radiation is used to take pictures of the inside of your body. They are often used to look for broken bones, but they can be used to diagnose illnesses, such as pneumonia, as well. X-rays are also the type of imaging we use for mammograms when we screen for breast cancer.
X-rays give off radiation, but they are still considered safe — the radiation is given only in very small doses.
We also perform several procedures using fluoroscopy. An X-ray beam is passed through your body and shows continuous images on a monitor, almost like an X-ray movie. We are able to see instruments in detail as they move through your body, allowing us to perform procedures without doing major surgery. Some of these procedures include:
- Lumbar puncture (spinal tap): We remove a small amount of cerebrospinal fluid — the fluid that surrounds your spinal cord and brain — to analyze it for infections or diseases of the spinal cord and brain. Lumbar puncture can also be used to inject medication into the lower portion of your spine.
- Myelography: We inject a contrast into your spinal canal to create a myelogram — a picture of your spinal cord, nerves and surrounding areas. Myelograms are used to look for abnormalities of these structures and areas, as well as the vessels that bring blood to the spinal cord. These tests are particularly useful when assessing the spine after spinal surgery, or for patients who are not candidates for MRIs.
- Chest tube placement: A thin, plastic tube is inserted into your chest in order to drain excess fluid, blood, or air from around your heart, lungs, or esophagus. For example, you might receive a chest tube if you’ve had a serious buildup of blood around your lungs after an impact injury, such as a car accident. Chest tube insertions are sometimes done during surgery while you are unconscious.
- Upper gastrointestinal tract exam: X-rays and contrast create images of your stomach, small intestine and esophagus. This exam is often used to diagnose acid reflux, pain, ulcers, tumors, hernias and causes of blood in your stool.
- Lower gastrointestinal tract exam (barium enema): X-rays and contrast create images of the inside of your large intestine (colon). This exam can detect polyps, cancer and ulcerative colitis. It can also help diagnose the causes of certain symptoms — such as constipation, chronic diarrhea, blood in your stool or changes in bowel habits.
- Dysphagia study: You will ingest a contrast solution, called barium, so we can evaluate your ability to swallow safely and effectively. This test is commonly used in stroke patients, and we often perform this with providers from the Speech Therapy Department.
Diagnostic radiology is sometimes referred to as “plain film.” Many patients begin with an exam here before having more advanced tests, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT).
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)MRIs use radio waves and magnets to create pictures of your body. During an MRI, you will not be exposed to ionizing radiation as you would with X-rays.
Traditionally, MRIs are “closed” — you lie down inside of a tunnel-shaped scanner, enclosed on all sides. However, we are able to provide open MRIs, where the machine does not fully surround you, and is open on the sides. The open MRI is particularly helpful if you have claustrophobia, or fear of small spaces.
We also perform magnetic resonance angiography (MRA). An MRA is just like an MRI, but it is performed to allow physicians to examine your blood vessels (arteries and veins).
MRIs are commonly used for patients with strokes, traumas and heart disease, but physicians across the entire Stormont Vail Health system rely on images from MRIs.
Computed Tomography (CT)CT scans combine multiple X-ray images into “slices” — detailed, cross-sectional images of bones, blood vessels and soft tissues. During a CT scan, you will lie on a table while a CT scanner moves around you, taking pictures.
CT scans have become the go-to exam for many physicians, as they can provide a wealth of information in a relatively short time. Since so much information can be obtained from a single image, CT scans can limit additional imaging and radiation exposure. And, as one of the quickest imaging methods, CT scans are a favorite tool among emergency physicians.
In the Stroke and Trauma programs, CT scans are key components of treatment:
- Head CT without contrast: This is the main mode of imaging during an acute stroke. It allows the physician to identify early signs of a stroke and exclude other conditions that could be mimicking a stroke, such as a tumor or bleeding within the skull.
- CT perfusion: This CT provides information about blood flow to the brain, including which areas are receiving enough blood. CT perfusion helps determine whether or not you are a candidate for having a blood clot removed from your head.
Some CT scans are used for screening procedures. For example, if you have a high risk of lung cancer, a low-dose CT can screen for signs of cancer. Or, if you have a risk of coronary artery disease, your physician may order a CT calcium score exam to check for a buildup of plaque in your coronary arteries.
We are also able to use CT technology when we perform several types of procedures:
- Biopsy: A biopsy is a procedure where we remove a sample of tissue or cells from your body in order for it to be examined in a laboratory. In a CT-guided biopsy, we use imaging technology to guide a needle to an area of your body that needs a biopsy, but isn’t easily accessible through the skin (e.g., liver, lung).
- Chest tube placement: A chest tube is used to drain excess fluid, blood or air from around your heart, lungs or esophagus. We can use CT imaging to guide the tube to the correct location, meaning we can place the tube without performing open surgery.
- Radiofrequency ablation: Using CT imaging as a guide, we deliver heat and electric energy to cancerous or precancerous cells. This kills the cells, with only minimal impact to surrounding tissue.
UltrasoundUltrasounds use high-frequency sound waves to create images of the inside of your body. During an ultrasound, gel and a small probe are placed onto your skin. The sound waves are transmitted from the probe, through the gel, and into your body. You will not be exposed to any ionizing radiation.
In certain procedures, the probe may be inserted into a natural opening in your body. For example, you may have a probe placed into your esophagus (feeding tube) to take pictures of your heart.
One of the most well-known uses of an ultrasound is looking at a pregnant woman’s ovaries and uterus to check on the fetus. However, an ultrasound can be used for a variety of reasons, including:
- Diagnosing gallbladder disease
- Checking the thyroid
- Diagnosing certain cancers
- Evaluating lumps in the breast
- Discovering abnormalities in the prostate or genital organs
- Examining blood flow in your blood vessels
- Checking for bleeding in the heads of babies in Neonatal Intensive Care (NIC)
- Guiding a needle for a biopsy, so that radiologists remove the correct tissue or cells
Nuclear MedicineNuclear medicine uses tracers with small amounts of radioactive material to diagnose a disease, or to determine its severity or treatments for it. Nuclear medicine can be used for many types of conditions, including cancer, neurological disorders, gastrointestinal disease, endocrine disease, and heart disease.
This type of imaging can pinpoint tiny amounts of activity within the body, allowing us to potentially identify diseases in very early stages.
There are two common types of nuclear imaging tests:
- Single-photon emission computerized tomography (SPECT): This test allows us to examine the function of your inner organs. For example, we can use a SPECT test to see how blood flows to your heart, or which parts of your brain are affected by diseases, such as epilepsy or dementia.
- Positron emission tomography (PET) scan: This test allows us to examine the function of your tissues and organs. It is often able to show signs of disease before they appear on other types of tests, giving us the ability to diagnose disease in its early stages. PET scans are often used to detect cancer, heart disease and brain disorders.
What Type of Equipment is Available at Stormont Vail?
Stormont Vail is proud to provide patients with exams using state-of-the-art radiology equipment. Our technologies include:
- Three closed MRI machines and one open MRI machine
- Two 3T MRI units that offer improved imaging
- A dedicated Emergency Department imaging unit designed to perform exams in a timely manner, including a digital X-ray unit and CT unit
- Three additional CT scanners, including one with fluoroscopy procedure capabilities
- PET/CT unit at the Cotton O’Neil Cancer Center
- Four ultrasound units in Medical Imaging, two additional ones at the Women’s Center, and at least two dozen more dedicated to maternal-fetal medicine, cardiovascular imaging, and other specialty services
- Multiple nuclear medicine units, including one with the ability to provide SPECT imaging
- Mammography services at five Stormont Vail locations
- Four bone density exam units at three Stormont Vail locations
The MRI Center
Stormont Vail’s MRI Center offers fast, high-quality MRI testing. We offer an open-magnet MRI unit, allowing us to treat patients who are claustrophobic or cannot fit into the closed units. The open MRI is also particularly beneficial for children, who may be scared of testing.
Our services are available at several different Cotton O’Neil clinics.
Many tests and procedures are performed at the main hospital.