CT Scan vs. Ultrasound

CT Scan

Ultrasound and CT Scan (Computed Tomography) are two of the most widely used medical imaging techniques. The techniques use different principles to generate an image for diagnostic purposes.

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CT Scan


Cost CT Scan costs range from $1,200 to $3,200; they usually cost less than MRIs (about half the price of MRI). Ultrasound procedures cost $100-$1,000.
Time taken for complete scan Usually completed within 5 minutes. Actual scan time usually less than 30 seconds. Therefore, CT is less sensitive to patient movement than MRI. Ultrasound usually takes about 10-15 minutes.
Radiation exposure The effective radiation dose from CT ranges from 2 to 10 mSv, which is about the same as the average person receives from background radiation in 3 to 5 years. Usually, CT is not recommended for pregnant women or children unless absolutely necessary. No radiation
Principle used for imaging Uses X-rays for imaging High Frequency sound waves (ultrasound) are used for imaging
Ability to change the imaging plane without moving the patient With capability of MDCT, isotropic imaging is possible. After helical scan with Multiplanar Reformation function, an operator can construct any plane. Present
Details of bony structures Provides good details about bony structures Ultrasounds are usually not used for bony structures. Instead they are used for internal organs of the body.
Details of soft tissues A major advantage of CT is that it is able to image bone, soft tissue and blood vessels all at the same time. Detailed with advanced technology

Contents: CT Scan vs Ultrasound

Picture of a fetus in its mother's womb, viewed in a sonogram
Picture of a fetus in its mother's womb, viewed in a sonogram

edit How Ultrasounds and CT Scans Work

Different medical imaging principles are applied for ultrasounds and CT scans. As a result, the process of scanning is also different.

The CT scan of a person's torso.
The CT scan of a person's torso.

edit Principles

The basic principle behind a CT scan relies on the reconstruction of a three dimensional image of an organ, by a computer, after acquiring multiple X-ray images of it. These images are obtained by passing multiple beams of X-rays through the region of interest at different angles.

In an ultrasound, a sound wave is produced in short pulses at the desired frequency and focussed at the region of interest in the body. These sound waves are partially reflected back from the body, received by a transducer and sent to the ultrasonic scanner, where they are processed and transformed into a digital image. The formation of the image depends on the time and the strength of the echo, and is displayed on the computer screen for analysis.

edit CT Scan procedure

During a CT scan, the patient is moved along the scanning system. A source of X-rays and an X-ray detector also rotate in synchrony so that the X-rays that are passed through the region of interest can produce different slices in axial or helical mode, and captured for further computation. The multiple images are then computed to create a view of the organ. The prepared CT image can be immediately viewed on a television monitor or recorded for storage and analysis later.

edit Ultrasound Procedure

During a medical ultrasound, a probe is passed over the region of interest to send sound waves into the area. To minimize air bubbles between the probe and the skin, a jelly is applied to the region first. The patient is sometimes asked to change positions to get a better view of the target area. The images obtained measurements can be viewed or stored for use later.

edit Cost Comparison

CT Scan costs range from $1200 to $3200 - they are usually more expensive than ultrasonography The cost of ultrasound depends on the area examined and usually ranges form $100 to $1000. The cost might vary in different countries.

edit Applications of Ultrasound vs CT Scan

CT Scanning is useful for screening diseases such as colon cancer, detecting injuries and abnormalities in the head, chest, heart, abdomen and extremities. This technique is often combined with other techniques such as MRI, and ultrasonography.

Ultrasound applications are used for diagnostic applications such as visualizing muscles, tendons, internal organs, to determine its size, structures, any lesions or other abnormalities. Obstetric sonography is used to visualize fetuses during pregnancy. Other applications of ultrasound include removing kidney and gall stones, lipectomy and other applications.

edit Advantages and Risks

Due to the high contrast resolution of CT scanning, differences between the tissues are more apparent compared to other techniques. Further, imaging in CT scan removes the superimposition of structures other than the area of interest. The data from a single procedure can be viewed in different planes and thus increases diagnostic ability. This technique is also popular because it can be used to diagnose a number of conditions. This might eliminate the need for other diagnostic techniques such as colonoscopy.

CT scans are associated with the risk of causing cancers, such as lung cancer, colon cancer and leukemia This is mainly due to the use of X-rays. . There are other safety concerns associated with the use of contrast agents which are administered intravenously. However, these disadvantages can be reduced with the use of lower doses.

Ultrasound is less expensive and comparatively safer technique than CT scans. It has a variety of applications in the biomedical, industrial and other areas.

The advantages of ultrasonography far outweigh any risks associated with this technique. However, several studies have highlighted the harmful effects of ultrasound on pregnant mammals such as mice though this effect has not yet been shown in humans. Also, increased exposure to ultrasound waves leads to heating up of tissues, changes in pressure and other mechanical disturbances.

edit Preventative value

A U.S. government-financed study showed that annual CT scans of current and former heavy smokers reduce the risk that they will die from lung cancer by 20 percent.[1]

edit Video explaining the Difference

This video by Texas Instruments engineer Eduardo Bartolome explains all the technical implementation details of different types of scans: Ultrasound, PET scan CT scan and MRI. It's embedded to begin playing at the point where it summarizes the key differences between the application of each type of scan:

edit References

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Comments: CT Scan vs Ultrasound

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Anonymous comments (5)

September 4, 2012, 6:01am

The cost quoted here for CT scan is unbelievably high. In India, the general cost for MRI or CT scan ranges from $70 to $120 at any good hospital/scanning centre.

— 106.✗.✗.183

June 24, 2012, 7:44pm

If you suspect a sponge has been left inside during surgery, and you cannot have an MRI because of metal implanted in your body (in veterbrae in neck), what is the best way to look for that sponge?

— 68.✗.✗.72

April 27, 2014, 5:55am

Are reports from a CT scan accurate in discovering ataxia on the cerrebellum of the brain? Are the radiologists trained well in identifying ataxia??

— 207.✗.✗.95

January 13, 2014, 1:03am

If problem in heart valve(leakage) which machine is suitable to diagnose.

— 101.✗.✗.153

July 16, 2011, 9:10pm

If a blockage is suspect somewhere along the bowel would an ultrasound be preferred over Ct scan/MRI ?

— 24.✗.✗.75


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