The Difference Between an X-Ray and an MRI

June 11, 2019

Say you’re from Toms River in northern Jersey. When you type advanced medical imaging in Toms River NJ into the search bar, you will likely primarily see results for X-rays and MRI scanners trying to sell you on their facility’s technology. While these two types of scan are not the only types of advanced medical imaging out there, they are quite different. Here is a quick guide to the differences between the two.


X-rays are used in CT scans, mammograms, fluoroscopy, and of course, regular X-ray tests. X-ray tests differentiate density in the body part being scanned. Bones should appear white, and empty space should appear black. X-rays are simple and sometimes life-saving, but not highly detailed. Sometimes a contrast agent is injected or ingested to allow for a clear image of a body part to help with a diagnosis. Fluoroscopy is particularly interesting, as it transmits a constant image onto a monitor to allow real-time observations via X-ray.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging

MRI scans don’t use X-rays and are generally much more detailed. They place the person or body part being tested within a magnetic field and then use radio waves (resonance) to create an image of the tissue within the field. The image is broken down into slices going up and down as well as left to right. When observed together, a sort of sliced 3D image is created. Whereas X-rays are an image of the entire body, all the way through, MRI scans provide several slices that can be scrolled through to pinpoint problems more accurately.

Magnetic resonance imaging is generally reserved for when X-rays aren’t able to provide a conclusive diagnosis, or after more conservative treatment methods haven’t solved the medical problem. MRI machines are quite expensive, and the tests can take much longer than a simple X-ray, hence the less frequent use of MRI testing. If you are unclear on upcoming radiology, always ask your doctor for more information.