Radiologist Questions X-Ray

What is the key difference between an X-ray and a CT Scan?

My baby is 3 months old and has been suffering from breathlessness and chest congestion. The X-ray is showing a hazy picture of the lungs however the doctors are still not able to diagnose the condition. They have now suggested a CT scan for a better view of the lungs. What is the difference between the two?

6 Answers

CT is more cost, technology and radiation. I would treat the patient and not the X-ray. This is very common and rarely necessary to do more than a cxr, not a CT scan. Does the doctor or his employer own the CT scanner? If the cost is more than $350, you are being taken for a ride. Seek treatment elsewhere.
Chest X-ray shows a 2-d image of a 3-d structure, the lungs. CT gives a 3-d image with much more details and is better for diagnosis.
You get better soft tissue resolution which results in finer soft tissue detail than with just X-ray. However, radiation dose is higher with CT than with X-ray.

Dr Cox
The answer is complex, but essentially a CT scan uses X-rays to take pictures in slices of the human body. Think of a loaf of bread. Imagine there's a marble in the center of the bread. If you took an X-ray, you'd be able to see the marble, but it would be hard to tell exactly where in the loaf it was. If you sliced the bread and looked at each slice, you'd get a better idea of where the marble was in the loaf.

Also, since the CT uses a computer to reconstruct the images, the radiologist can manipulate the images in many ways, including taking density measurements of any abnormality (which can help figure out what it is), measure structures, change factors to be able to look at bones or soft tissue, and other manipulation.

Bottom line is that a CT scan can provide a much more detailed look inside the body than a regular X-ray and it is an amazing tool to help with diagnosis.

I hope this helped!
An X-ray generally is 2D, so details may not be seen as well.
A CT is 3D; the T stands for tomographic. Often, contrast will be given during a CT to help define structures much better.
From your description, it sounds like a CT scan is a good idea. You need to know what you are dealing with and a plain X-ray is not giving you, or the doctors, all the information you need.
The CT scan will give better detail as to the lung parenchyma. There are new algorithms which decrease the radiation dose to children. The chest X-ray delivers less radiation overall even with these new algorithms, but the films are not as high detailed as the CT. Much depends on how sick your child is and what the current concern of the pediatrician might be clinically.