What Is the Difference between a CT Scan and an X-Ray?

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  • Written By: L.L. Probst
  • Edited By: Rachel Catherine Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 10 August 2019
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The differences between a computed tomography (CT) scan and an X-ray are numerous and varied, from the quality of the image produced to the required amount of space to house the equipment. Levels of radiation exposure and overall equipment costs are also considerable differences between the CT scan and an X-ray.

CT scan and an X-ray vary greatly on the quality of image produced. As an extension to X-ray technology, CT scans take multiple X-ray images around the circumference of the body area being scanned. This technique leads to a clear three-dimensional image from a CT scan versus an often times blurry image in a flat two-dimensional view produced by an X-ray. In addition to clearer imaging, more precise images of specific areas or organs can also be achieved utilizing CT scans than what can be seen with an X-ray.

Levels of radiation exposure to the patient are a major consideration when a physician decides between the need for a CT scan and an X-ray. CT scans use much greater amounts of radiation than do X-rays, essentially because a CT scan is a series of X-rays rather than a single image. Heightened radiation can put a patient in a higher risk category for cellular damage if exposure is excessive. Due to this many physicians might opt to a CT scan only when it is absolutely necessary to make the correct diagnosis.


Equipment size between a CT scan and an X-ray machine is another considerable difference between the two types of imaging equipment. X-ray machines are relatively small and often times easier to use than the contrasting CT scan device which is large and complicated to operate. Typically a patient would need to lie or stand in front of the X-ray negative to have an image produced. CT technology requires the patient to enter a large cylindrical ring that rotates around the body to form an image. The technology utilized by the radiographer is also more demanding for a CT scan than an X-ray.

Due to the size and heightened technological advances of a CT scan, the costs involved in purchasing, operating and housing are much higher than it is for an X-ray machine. A CT scan and an X-ray are two pieces of equipment commonly seen in most hospitals or imaging facilities even with the greater cost of the CT scan. Both technologies can be essential diagnostic tools for medical professionals. Any concerns as to the need between a CT scan and an X-ray should be addressed by a physician.


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