There are several high-tech equipment that can be used to detect various ailments that may be developing in our bodies, and some of them look very formidable. However, when it comes to our health, looking past the equipment used to perform the procedure that could save our lives, is nothing short of imperative. Let’s take a look at each of these life-saving equipment.
When a doctor suspects his patient may be having a serious problem and needs help in locating it within their body, he or she will most likely turn to the nuclear scan for help. This scanning device can see into the deepest recesses of the body, and has the ability to alert one to the problem when detected. Nuclear scans come in two forms: a bone scan, and a ventilation-perfusion-scintigraphy or V-P Scan. Both scans use radioactive compounds which attach to body tissues. Radiologists use bone scans to check the skeleton for tumors, infections, injury, or a source of unexplained pain. The scan points out hot spots – areas of increased activity that indicate abnormalities in bone structures – weeks to months before they can be detected by standard x-rays. For this, I say hooray to nuclear scan.
V-P scans are designed to give physicians valuable information about our lungs. V for ventilation refers to breathing while P for perfusion refers to blood flow. Both can be measured using radioisotopes and a gamma camera. By comparing two measurements and looking for a “V-P mismatch,” radiologists can detect a pulmonary embolism – a potentially fatal condition involving blood clots in the lungs – and stop it before it damages our body.
Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography (SPECT)
This special computer detects heart disease. If your doctor suspects any form of coronary artery disease, he or she will hook you up to this computer where the condition of your heart muscle will be evaluated. This SPECT machine features three innovations over the conventional nuclear scan: Its gamma camera rotates to shoot from a variety of angles; it produces images of thin sections of the body; and the computer produces a three-dimensional picture.
To prepare for this test, you first exercise to get your heart in gear. Then a radioactive tracer such as thallium-201 is injected into the body. SPECT photographs the image after the thallium injection and then again several hours later. Together, the two sets of images indicate any heart blockages that may be causing angina or other troublesome symptoms.
Digital Subtraction Angiography (DSA)
Angiography has been around for years to help doctors diagnose clogged arteries and prevent strokes. After injecting contrast dye into a suspicious artery through a catheter, radiologists can pinpoint any trouble spots both present and future. Digital Subtraction Angiography (DSA) is a recent advance in imaging that has become an important complement to angiography. Through this technique, unwanted x-ray detail is subtracted from the angiographic image, thus offering a clearer outline of the veins and arteries. In addition, DSA requires less contrast material to produce an image than angiography alone. Thank goodness for our technological advancements!
Computerized Axial Tomography (CAT) Scan
CAT Scanners are the biggest imaging advancement since the discovery of x-rays. With the look of a gigantic washing machine, an x-ray tube, a fixed ring of very sensitive detectors, and a computer, a CAT scanner creates detailed two-dimensional pictures of the entire body so that the computer can put it together to form three-dimensional images. What is amazing is that it only takes about 40 seconds to put it all together.
The CAT Scanner can distinguish tumors from normal tissues and determine their size and volume in the process. Scanning the skull, chest, and abdomen of an accident victim can provide the physician with a prompt diagnosis that speeds the treatment of internal injuries.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
The magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine is a powerful magnetic coil with up to 30,000 times the strength of the earth’s magnetic field. Unlike a standard x-ray or CAT scan, the MRI does not use radiation, and as far as experts know, it involves no risks or side effects. MRI performs its magic by an ingenious combination of magnetic field, radio waves, and computer. It is useful in the study of musculoskeletal diseases and has the potential to detect changes in joint tissue early on so that people with rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis can get a jump on their treatment.
MRI can be used to study biochemical activity in tissues at the very early stages of disease. It is also capable of detecting large tumors or cystic spaces within the spinal cord.
Ultrasound, or sonography shows a picture of health problems. It is another alternative to using radiation to see inside the body. To carry out this procedure, high-frequency sound waves are emitted from transducer that is passed over various areas of the body. As the transducer is held over a particular part of the body, sound waves bounce off structures within and echo back into the transducer. This information is then electronically transformed into a picture.
Ultrasound’s value lies in its ability to examine soft-tissue densities and discriminate among them. Ultrasound can also be used to study not only the structure of blood vessels but also the flow within them. Urologists and radiologists also use this technique to detect early cancer of the prostate.
Ultrasound is radiation free, and thus safe to use on pregnant women to see the fetus and how it is developing. One of the best health-aid inventions yet!
Doppler Flow Imaging (DPI)
Doppler flow imaging beam can be likened to a declining pitch of a train’s whistle as the train disappears down the track. The pitch of the sound rises as the source approaches, decreases as it moves away. If the beam hits a moving target, the signal the radiologist gets back is altered; linked with ultrasound images, the signal can be used to evaluate blood flow even in vessels deep within the body. The result is a clear profile of any partially blocked blood vessels that might one day contribute to a heart attack or stroke.
Color doppler flow imaging, the latest development in doppler testing, samples all areas of flow within the vessels simultaneously. Then by assigning a different color to each flow speed, the radiologist can quickly spot areas of slowdown or blockage. This testing can save you from a heart attack or stroke which a blood clot contributes to.
Position Emission Tomography (PET)
PET targets the heart and brain. This technique goes beyond the imaging of the anatomy, soft tissues, and blood flow; it uses radioactive tracers to look at the metabolic activity going on inside an organ. How cool is that?
Radiologists use PET to study brain-related disorders such as epilepsy, alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia, and parkinson’s disease. Position Emission Tomography can also evaluate the vitality of the heart’s muscle before undergoing surgery.
Of course our doctors make recommendations, but we have to opt to act on them and take advantage of all the innovations that are designed to help make our lives better.
Do you know of any other high-tech test that could save lives?