MRI vs. CT Scans: Understanding the Differences

MRIs and CT scans are very different technologies, but most people don’t examine the differences until they need to receive medical imaging. Both technologies are safe, and when performed correctly, they can provide key diagnostic information to help physicians make important decisions.

A computed tomography scan (CAT scan or CT scan) uses x-ray radiation to create images of the body. It’s commonly used for diagnosing abnormalities in the brain, but it can also be used for imaging structures in other parts of the body, especially the spine.

A magnetic resonance imaging scan (MRI) uses strong magnets to create a magnetic field around the body. This causes atoms in the body to create their own magnetic fields, which the machine then reads and translates into an image.
Both of these imaging technologies sometimes use dyes (also known as contrast agents) which make the resulting images easier to read. While these contrast agents are completely safe for most patients, you’ll want to tell your physician if you’re pregnant or if you have other medical conditions prior to scheduling your scan.

Is An MRI Better Than a CT Scan?

MRIs and CT scans serve similar but distinct purposes, and your physician will recommend the tests that he or she needs to diagnose your condition.

With that said, each technology has certain advantages. For example:

Length of Testing. CT scan examinations don’t take as long as MRI examinations in most instances. A typical CT scan can be completed in less than a half hour, and most of that time is preparation; the actual scan can take less than a minute.

An MRI takes about 30-60 minutes, and the patient must stay completely still during the procedure. This can cause discomfort for people with claustrophobia, although open MRI technologies are available to accommodate these patients.

Radiation Exposure. CT scans use x-ray radiation, while MRI machines use magnetic fields. Radiation exposure carries certain risks, although an experienced CT Tech working with state-of-the-art equipment can limit these risks.

Other Health Considerations. Modern MRIs also rarely use iodinated contrast agents, which can present unpleasant side effects in some patients. The most common MRI contrast agent is gadolinium, which has paramagnetic properties; however, some patients are allergic to gadolinium, and iodinated contrast agents are an alternative option for these individuals.

Additionally, some patients have health conditions that prevent an MRI scan (pacemakers are a common example, although MRI-compatible pacemakers are available).

Detail of Image. MRIs offer higher-quality images than CT scans. However, CT scans are excellent at imaging bone structures.

Cost. CT scans are significantly less expensive than MRIs. On average, a CT scan costs about half of what an MRI scan costs, although costs vary significantly for dozens of reasons.

Whether you’re looking for a CT scan or an MRI, you’ll want to control the costs, regardless of whether you have health insurance. At the same time, you’ll want to work with an experienced radiologist with the latest equipment to ensure that your images are diagnostically useful.

Imaging expenses can range from less than $400 to thousands of dollars, but by comparing costs before choosing a facility, you can get high-quality images at an affordable price without sacrificing quality of care. Call us today at 888-322-7785 to compare costs for an MRI scan or CT scan in your area.



Andreucci, Michele, Richard Solomon and Adis Tasanarong. “Side Effects of Radiographic Contrast Media: Pathogenesis, Risk Factors, and Prevention.” Hindawi. Biomed Research International, 2014. Web. 17 Feb. 2017.

Medical Imaging: CT (CAT) Scan.” StMichaelsHospital. St. Michael’s Hospital, n.d. Web. 17 Feb. 2017.




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