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CT Scan vs. MRI: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Harlon Moss || Updated on October 12, 2023
CT scan uses X-rays to create detailed images of the body, while MRI employs radio waves and a magnetic field to produce detailed images, without ionizing radiation.

Key Differences

A CT scan, or computed tomography scan, operates using a mechanism that involves taking several X-ray images from different angles, providing a sectional view of the body, which is beneficial for examining bodily structures and identifying anomalies like tumors or fractures. Conversely, MRI, which stands for Magnetic Resonance Imaging, avoids the use of ionizing radiation, and instead, employs a powerful magnetic field along with radio waves to produce detailed images, particularly soft tissues, facilitating thorough visualization of organs, muscles, and even blood vessels.
CT scans are widely recognized for their ability to provide detailed insights into bone structures, making them a vital tool in the identification and assessment of injuries and damages to bony tissues, which is indispensable for orthopedic evaluations and planning surgical interventions. MRIs, on the other hand, excel in providing detailed imaging of soft tissues, offering a more comprehensive understanding of non-bony structures like the brain, spinal cord, and internal organs, making it a superior choice for neurological studies and soft tissue evaluations.
When it comes to duration and speed, CT scans generally have an upper hand, as they are typically quicker to perform, sometimes taking only a few minutes to conclude a full scan, making them a practical choice for emergency situations where rapid diagnostics are crucial. MRI procedures are usually lengthier, sometimes extending up to an hour or more, which may be less ideal for cases requiring immediate intervention, but offer unparalleled depth in imaging quality and detail, especially for soft tissues.
CT scans expose patients to a degree of ionizing radiation, which is a consideration for healthcare professionals when prescribing this diagnostic procedure, especially for populations like pregnant women or individuals who require numerous scans. On the contrary, since MRIs do not employ ionizing radiation, they circumvent the risks associated with radiation exposure, making them a preferable modality in situations where numerous or frequent imaging is required, and ensuring they are safer for vulnerable populations.
In financial and accessibility aspects, CT scans often tend to be more widely available and economically feasible, thereby being accessible to a larger population and suitable for various healthcare setups. MRIs are generally more expensive and less accessible due to the sophisticated technology and machinery involved, but they offer distinct advantages in imaging quality, especially where detailed views of soft tissues are requisite, underlining the need to select the imaging modality in accordance with the diagnostic requirement and availability of resources.

Comparison Chart

Full Form

Computed Tomography
Magnetic Resonance Imaging



Word Count

2 (Computed Tomography)
3 (Magnetic Resonance Imaging)

Character Count

19 (including space)
25 (including spaces)

Use of Definite Article

Typically not used ("a CT scan")
Typically not used ("an MRI")

CT Scan and MRI Definitions

CT Scan

It can visualize internal injuries and bleeding, providing critical information, especially in emergency scenarios.
After the car accident, a CT scan was performed to check for internal injuries.


Unlike X-rays and CT scans, MRIs do not use ionizing radiation, providing an alternative imaging method for certain patient populations.
The doctor suggested an MRI for the pregnant woman to avoid exposing the fetus to ionizing radiation.

CT Scan

CT scans are renowned for providing detailed imagery of bone structures and diagnosing fractures.
The CT scan revealed a minor fracture in the patient's forearm.


An MRI, or Magnetic Resonance Imaging, uses a magnetic field and radio waves to generate detailed images of organs and structures within the body.
The neurologist recommended an MRI to obtain a clear image of the patient's brain.

CT Scan

This technique is pivotal in visualizing and staging cancer by showcasing tumor size and location.
The CT scan was crucial in planning the cancer patient's treatment strategy.


MRIs are particularly beneficial in detecting and evaluating tumors in soft tissues, such as those found in the breast.
The patient's MRI showed a small tumor in the breast, warranting further examination.

CT Scan

CT scans are instrumental in guiding certain surgical procedures and biopsies.
Using a CT scan, the surgeon accurately located the abnormal tissue for biopsy.


This imaging method excels in depicting soft tissues, providing vital insights into joints, muscles, and ligaments.
The athlete underwent an MRI to assess the extent of damage to the knee ligaments.

CT Scan

A CT scan generates cross-sectional images of the body using X-rays and computer processing.
The doctor ordered a CT scan to investigate the patient's abdominal pain.


MRI is paramount in neurological studies, offering exquisite detailing of the brain and spinal cord, assisting in diagnosing various conditions.
The MRI revealed crucial details about the patient’s spinal anomalies, aiding in therapeutic planning.


An image produced by magnetic resonance imaging.


The act or process of producing such an image.


The use of nuclear magnetic resonance of protons to produce proton density images


What is an MRI used for?

MRI is used to create detailed images of structures and organs within the body, especially soft tissues.

Do MRIs use radiation?

No, MRIs use a magnetic field and radio waves, not ionizing radiation.

Which is typically faster, a CT scan or an MRI?

A CT scan is generally faster than an MRI.

Can a CT scan detect soft tissue damage?

CT scans can visualize soft tissue but not as detailed as an MRI.

Why might a doctor order an MRI?

Doctors might order an MRI to analyze soft tissues, organs, joints, tumors, and areas like the brain and spine.

Is contrast material always used in CT scans and MRIs?

Not always, the use of contrast material depends on the specifics of the examination.

What does CT scan stand for?

CT scan stands for Computed Tomography scan.

Is a CT scan or an MRI better for studying the brain?

An MRI is often preferred for detailed brain studies due to its superior soft tissue contrast.

How should a patient prepare for a CT scan?

Preparation might involve fasting and instructions regarding medications and allergies.

How should a patient prepare for an MRI?

Patients should remove all metal objects and inform technicians of any implants or medical devices.

Can pregnant women have an MRI?

MRIs are generally considered safe during pregnancy, especially without contrast, but always consult healthcare professionals.

Can an MRI be used to evaluate joint health?

Yes, MRIs provide detailed images of joints, identifying issues with ligaments, tendons, and cartilage.

Are CT scans painful?

No, CT scans are painless but may require the patient to lie still.

How does a CT scan work?

A CT scan uses X-rays and computer technology to create detailed cross-sectional images of the body.

Can pregnant women have CT scans?

While caution is exercised, CT scans can be conducted if the benefits outweigh the risks.

Can individuals with metal implants have an MRI?

It depends on the implant type; patients must inform healthcare providers to determine safety.

What does a CT scan typically cost?

Costs can vary widely based on location, healthcare provider, and insurance coverage.

Why might a doctor order a CT scan?

Doctors may order a CT scan to examine bone injuries, detect cancer, visualize blood vessels, and more.

What does an MRI typically cost?

MRI costs can vary and depend on factors like geographical location and whether contrast is used.

Can a CT scan visualize the heart?

Yes, CT scans can visualize the heart and surrounding blood vessels.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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