Difference Between Bone Scan and MRI

Disease diagnosing can be tedious if we didn’t have access to amazing diagnostic tests/ scans like CT scans, MRI, Bone Scan, etc. But some of these can baffle us and create confusion about which one to go.


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The difference between Bone Scan and MRI is that Bone Scan is majorly focused on bone diseases or conditions like bone cancer, bone infections, or minute fractures which are not perceived in the X-Ray, while MRI helps in deep diagnosis by producing images of bone as well as the internal anatomy like the tendons, ligaments surrounding the bone.   

Bone Scan vs MRI

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Bone Scan or Bone Scintigraphy involves nuclear medicine imaging methodology wherein a radioactive material is injected into the body which produces gamma rays, which in turn are captured by an imaging device(camera) thus generating images or scintigrams. Bone Scan usually produces two-dimensional (2D) images.   

MRI scanners generate detailed and deep images of the physiology and anatomy of any internal organ, thus providing a precise and deep diagnosis of any disease or infection. MRI is generally considered as safer than any other tests/ scans.  

Comparison Table

Parameters of Comparison    Bone Scan    MRI     
Rays/ Fields used    Radioactive-gamma rays  Strong Magnetic Fields, Radio Waves  
Image Generated    2-dimensional    3-dimensional and 2-dimensional   
Invented By  George De Hevesy (1930s)  Raymond Damadian (1970s-1980s)  
Risk Factor    For pregnant and breastfeeding women    No threat to pregnant women  
Specificity    Peculiarly Bone   Any anatomical internal organ    

What is a Bone Scan?  

It is popularly known as skeletal scintigraphy. Diagnosis of bone scan may assist in treating numerous disorders like bone cancer and metastasis, osteoblasts, minute fractures which are not visible under normal X-ray, osteoporosis, arthritis, etc.   

Under Bone Scan patients are administered with radioactive substances like radiopharmaceutical or radiotracer which in turn produce gamma rays which are then processed into images by the imaging device. These images are labeled scintigrams.

Usually, in absence of bone disorder, the radioactive substance should be distributed evenly in the entire body. But in presence of disease, these scintigrams highlight dark/ hot spots thus locating the affected segment of the bone.   

Patients are usually asked to wait after injecting the radiotracer before undergoing the scan. Bone scan to date emerges to be one of the safest options of scan leaving no side effects or risks.   

If the ailment is not identified on the first go, physicians generally advise the bone scan to be redone. In some cases, a bone scan is followed by SPECT (Single-photon emission computed tomography), SPECT provides 3-Dimensional images thus enhancing the results of bone scan.  

What is MRI?   

MRI or Magnetic Resonance Imaging is an imaging technique used to generate images depicting the physiology of deep internal organs. MRI helps in the timely detection and diagnosis of massive disorders involving every part of the body.

The one with the contrast medium (usually gadolinium) guarantees better results and images compared to the no-contrast medium. MRI is never specific; it assists in diagnosing ailments from the entire body encompassing any muscle, tissue, ligament, etc.   

Often, they also detect Alzheimer’s. MRI usually does not involve ionizing radiations thus distinguishing it from other diagnostic tests.   

The magnetic and radio waves track and trace the water or hydrogen molecules in the body and these atoms, in turn, produce light/ faint waves or signals which are processed into cross-sectional images. MRI also produces 3-dimensional images.   

MRI is considered the safest, the exception being that there should be not a single piece of metal attached to your body due to the presence of strong and mighty magnets. MRI is painless and carries zero side effects.  

Main Differences Between Bone Scan and MRI  

  1. Pregnant women are advised to consult doctors before undergoing a Bone Scan, while MRI possess no threats to pregnant or breastfeeding women.   
  2. Bone Scan involves the injection of radiotracer while MRI does not involve the injection of any radioactive substance.   
Difference Between Bone Scan and MRI
  1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0001299811000961
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