The History and Use of MRI and CT Scans

Both MRI and CT scans are types of medical imaging. Medical imaging is a type of technology that has transformed the medical field over the last 100 years. By using these developing technologies, doctors have elevated the standard of care for patients. Incredibly, medical complaints can now be non-invasively examined and treated. Looking at the history of medical imaging can provide insight to patients and medical professionals going forward. 


Start at the Beginning: The X-Ray 

While performing unrelated experiments, Professor Wilhelm Röntgen accidentally discovered the X-Ray, or the ability to see past the skin and study the bones.

Specifically, while working with a cathode ray generator, he saw an image left when the cathode rays interacted with the vacuum tube. Using his wife as a “guinea pig,” he performed the first X-ray on her hand, and because he did not know what he had discovered and was unsure about how to name the discovery – the professor used the term “X” to describe the phenomena. 

Discovery continued through the years, the standardization of the X-Ray occurred, and now we see this medical equipment as standard in many hospitals and doctors’ offices. 


A More Advanced View: The MRI

Dr. Raymond Damadian‘s interest and enthusiasm for science drove him to invent the first magnetic resonance scanning machine which has become one of the most helpful diagnostic tools in modern times. Dr. Damadian learned that various animal tissues emit distinct signals and that cancerous tissues act differently still. This timing is the basis for magnetic resonance imaging. 

In 1977, Dr. Damadian created the first full-body MRI machine which he named the “Indomitable.” His assistant, Larry Minkoff, underwent the first human scan by Indomitable on July 2nd. Shortly thereafter Damadian received a patent for his design and established the FONAR Corporation in 1978, which launched the first commercial MRI scanner in 1980.

Also, during the 1970s a team led by John Mallard developed the first full-body MRI scanner at the University of Aberdeen, and then, on August 28, 1980, he and his associates used the full-body machine to obtain the first clinically useful image of a patient’s internal tissues using MRI.


Big Advances Made in the 1970s: CT Scans Enter the Scene

Major advancements were made in the same decade that the MRI machines were being introduced. The time frame also marked the first occurrence of computer technology merging into the medical field with the invention of the CT machine. 

The inventor conjectured that you could see into an object if you captured multiple X-rays from various angles that might appear as “slices” which could then be put together to form a complete image. 

The CT machine was invented in 1972 by British engineer Godfrey Hounsfield of EMI Laboratories, England and by South Africa-born physicist Allan Cormack of Tufts University, Massachusetts. The pair was ultimately awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their contributions to medicine and science.

Over the last 40 years, all of the machines have entered into the digital age and are now updated with the latest technology available. Meaning that there is less risk for patients and a greater ability by medical professionals to diagnose and to treat.


Timeline of Internal Photographs

At the turn of the century, the use of X-rays in medicine was a tremendous discovery. While a meaningful first step, X-rays are two-dimensional. Density was not uncovered by that type of technology, and with an X-ray, organs of the same density look the same. 

This two-dimensional issue inspired engineer and creator of the CT scan,  Godfrey Hounsfield, to improve how medical professionals can view patients. By combining X-ray images with a computer, a cross-sectional image can be developed. In 1971, one patient who may have been suffering from a brain lesion underwent a CT scan which found that she did indeed have a circular cyst on her brain.

In the 1980s, another imaging procedure was added to the instruments of medicine – magnetic resonance imaging. MRI is great for observing soft tissues because they have a higher water content than bone. Many times, an MRI is the preferred diagnostic tool for brain imaging and diagnosing hemorrhages. 


CT Scan vs. MRI

Both CT scans and MRIs are used to capture images within your body. One of the biggest differences is that MRIs use radio waves and CT scans use X-rays. While both are relatively low risk, there are differences that may make each one a better option depending on the patient’s particular circumstances.

Generally, CT scans are more broadly used than MRIs and are usually less costly, but MRIs are thought to be better in providing details of the image. Importantly, the most notable difference is that CT scans use X-rays while MRIs do not, so certain protections and precautions are used when a patient undergoes a CT scan. 

Other differences between MRI and CT scans exist. Both CT scans and MRIs have some risks for the patient when administered. The risks are based on the type of imaging as well as how the imaging is performed.

CT scan risks include harm to fetuses, a very small dose of radiation, and a potential reaction to the use of dyes. While the risks associated with MRI usage include possible reactions to metals due to magnets, loud noises from the machine causing hearing issues, an increase in body temperature during long MRIs, and claustrophobia. 

The benefits of these extremely useful medical tools have transformed the practice of diagnostics. Specifically, a CT scan is faster than an MRI, and it can provide pictures of tissues, organs, and skeletal structures. An MRI is very good at capturing images that help doctors see abnormal tissues within the body. 


The Injury Care Center Can Help You

At ICC, our staff and medication professionals have access and speed passes should you require an MRI or CT scan making the first step in your recovery process seamless. We will focus on helping you recover from your injury and ensure that you receive the best medical care possible.