What is a Thermograph?

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  • Written By: Lori Smith
  • Edited By: Michelle Arevalo
  • Last Modified Date: 15 August 2019
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Thermography has been around for centuries, but it was not used in a clinical setting until the 1940s. A thermograph is a sophisticated infrared camera used for diagnosing certain medical conditions. It has the ability to detect hot and cold spots in the body, and alerts medical professionals to specific areas of increased blood flow or locations of limited circulation. The test is non-invasive, and the device does not release radiation, so it is generally a safe and harmless diagnostic tool that can be used repeatedly without causing adverse reactions.

Many physical conditions can be diagnosed early, even in advance of symptoms, with a thermograph. It can detect a number of medical problems that are known to emit heat within the internal structures of the body. Certain pain conditions, digestive disorders, and respiratory issues are often discovered, and then monitored, using the device. A thermograph is also frequently utilized in clinical analysis and certain drug trials to evaluate a patient’s response to various treatments.


When used for diagnostic purposes, the infrared camera photographs an area of concern for a period of several minutes. The activity is transmitted to a computer, which records patterns of hot and cold. The monitor shows color maps that represent temperature differentiation of the body region under examination. Hot spots usually show up red, while cold spots are blue, and other colors, like yellow and green, represent variations in between the two boundaries. Since it records real-time activity, it is quite effective in visualizing blood vessel responses when areas of the body are exposed to extreme temperatures.

An example of a diagnostic procedure includes an instance where a foot may be photographed for examination. The patient’s hand, since it is farthest away from the foot, may be immersed in ice water for a short period of time, causing blood vessels throughout the body to constrict. When the hand is removed from the cold water, the thermograph can measure the amount of time it takes for areas of the foot to react to the temperature change, warm up, and reach a normal homeostatic balance. The progression of hot and cold spots can be seen on the computer monitor, indicated by bright colors that reflect actual, accurate temperatures of the area under examination.

A thermograph is also frequently used for breast cancer detection. Metastatic cancer generally produces heat, so when the patient’s breasts are compared to each other with the diagnostic camera, abnormal patterns of temperature can make the tumor easy to detect. It is also effective following surgical tumor removal, and doctors may run the test to monitor healing progress.

Sometimes, a patient experiences unexplained pain, and other diagnostic procedures have failed to provide conclusive results. A thermograph can be helpful in locating these areas within the body, where there is increased blood flow or hot spots, to validate the cause of the patient’s discomfort. Fibromyalgia, chronic regional pain syndrome (CRPS), nerve damage, or disc disease is often discovered using this evaluation tool. In fact, medical thermography can generally screen for a wide range of ailments, including vascular disease, sinus allergies, and even gingivitis.


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