3 “Scary” Health Tests Made Easy

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Why you shouldn’t worry when you doctor says “we need to run some tests”

Have you been avoiding an important health screening? Are you worried about an upcoming test you have scheduled? Whether you dread the exam or fear the result, overcoming these feelings and getting the test may be the decision that saves your life. Since knowledge is one of the best ways to cure fear, we’re going to share exactly what mammograms, MRI scans and CT scans entail and why they are nothing to be afraid of.

  1. Mammograms

While mammograms do not prevent breast cancer or reduce a woman’s risk of developing it, they do detect it. In fact, mammograms can detect small tumors before they become noticeable in a regular breast exam, which is critical because cancer detected in its earliest stages is more easily treated and cured.

How it works

A mammogram is an x-ray picture of the breast. To perform the test, one breast will be placed on a clear plastic plate that holds the x-ray. A second plate located above the first will press firmly on your breast to flatten it and keep it in place while the x-ray is taken. During your visit, a technologist will take four x-rays in total: a top to bottom view and side view of each breast.

Because the mammography machine takes x-rays at a lower doses than a typical x-ray, flattening the breast is necessary because it spreads the tissue apart, which provides a better picture and uses less radiation. While this may cause discomfort and some women find it painful, each x-ray takes less than ten seconds. You can do it!

  1. MRI scans

An MRI scan is often ordered after a traumatic injury (such as a brain or spinal cord injury) or when other forms of testing fail to provide enough information for an accurate diagnosis. It’s a noninvasive procedure that your doctor may use to examine your organs, tissues and skeletal system. The high resolution images they produce can assist diagnosis of various medical issues including those related to:

  • The brain and spinal cord, including spinal cord injuries, stroke, tumors, multiple sclerosis, aneurysms, eye and inner ear disorders
  • The heart and blood vessels, including the extent of damage caused by a heart attack or heart disease, thickness and movement of the heart’s walls, size and function of the chambers of the heart, structural problems in the aorta, inflammation or blockage in blood vessels
  • Other internal organs, such as the kidneys, liver, ovaries, pancreas, prostate, spleen, testicles or uterus
  • Bones and joints, for example, arthritis and other joint disorders, bone infections, tumors of the bones and soft tissues, spinal disk abnormalities, joint abnormalities caused by traumatic or repetitive injuries
  • Breasts: used in addition to mammography, especially in women with dense breast tissue or who may be at a higher risk for breast-related diseases like cancer

How it works

An MRI machine is essentially a long, tube-shaped magnet that’s open on both ends. A strong magnetic field and radio waves are used to produce detailed images of different structures within the body. While you’re inside the machine, its magnetic field will temporarily realign the hydrogen atoms within your body while the radio waves cause them to produce very faint signals. These signals are used to create cross-sectional images, kind of like slices in a loaf of bread. An MRI machine can also be used to produce 3D images that allow the part of the body being scanned to be viewed from many different angles.

While the test is painless, you may hear tapping, thumping and other noises while you are inside the machine. Don’t worry about them; that’s just an internal part of the magnet getting to work. You may use earplugs if you believe the noise will bother you. If you’re concerned about feeling claustrophobic, speak with your doctor who may be able to give you a sedative to keep you calm during the scan.

  1. CT scans

Like an MRI scan, CT scans are useful in a variety of situations. They are especially helpful when internal injuries need to be assessed after a trauma. This type of imaging can be used to visualize almost every part of the body to diagnose disease or injury, or to plan medical, surgical or radiation treatment. CT scans are commonly used to:

  • Diagnose muscle and bone disorders
  • Find the exact location of a tumor, infection or blood clot
  • Detect and monitor certain diseases and conditions including cancer, heart disease, lung nodules and liver masses
  • Monitor certain treatments
  • Discover internal injuries or bleeding

How it works

A CT scanner is a large, doughnut-shaped machine. During the scan, you will lie on a table that slides into the scanner, which will send x-rays through the part of your body that is being examined. Straps and pillows may be used to help you stay in position. The scanner will rotate multiple times, each rotation taking less than a second, to create a picture of a thin slice of the area being examined (again, think of it like slices in a loaf of bread.) You may hear clicking, buzzing or whirring noises, but they’re nothing to worry about; the process is totally painless and will only take a few minutes.

Occasionally a contrast material (iodine dye) will be used to make different structures or organs easier to see in the images that are produced. This may be given through an IV placed in a vein in your arm or injected into other parts of your body. Some CT scans may require you to drink the dye. If you are given a contrast material, you may receive special instructions and be told to drink lots of fluids to help your kidneys get it out of your system.

There’s nothing to fear

When you schedule an appointment at one of our convenient locations in Boca Raton, Plantation or Cooper City, you’ll find courteous professionals who treat you like a member of the family. We know how intimidating medical procedures can be for people of all ages, which is why we go the extra mile to ensure that you and your family feel safe and comfortable while you’re with us. POM is peace of mind, so contact us today with any questions you have or to schedule an appointment. With convenient night and weekend hours, we also welcome walk-in appointments.