Ramsay Health Care UK | 11/12/2020

The Different Diagnostic Tools

When diagnosing a potential health issue, there are many different tools and methods that medical professionals make use of, each with its own particular specialism. You might have heard your doctor talking about some of these types of tools and tests, and you might have experienced one or two yourself at some point.

We’ve brought together some of the most common types of diagnostic tools to explain a bit about each one and what they’re used for.


An x-ray is a type of diagnostic test that produces images of the inside of the body, highlighting things like bones and joints.

How does it work?

X-rays are a type of radiation, sending waves through the body that are picked up by a detector that then turns them into an image. Different types of tissue absorb the x-rays at different rates, so dense materials like bone show up clearly on the image, while soft tissues like skin and organs don’t show up as clearly.

What is it used for?

An x-ray is usually used to look at bones, such as fractures, but can also be used to show tumours or lung and heart problems. Dentists also use them to look for any problems with your teeth.


An MRI scan, or magnetic resonance imaging, is a way of creating images of the inside of the body, providing highly detailed views of internal organs, bones, and other tissue.

How does it work?

As the name suggests, MRI uses strong magnetic fields along with radio waves to produce images. The MRI scanner is a large tube, and the patient lies on a flat bed that moves into the tube up to whichever area needs scanning.

What is it used for?

MRI is used to diagnose and investigate all sorts of conditions all over the body from the brain to internal organs, blood vessels and more.


An ultrasound, also known as a sonogram, is used on the surface of the skin to provide live images from inside your body.

How does it work?

A small device attached to a monitor produces high frequency sound waves which bounce off the internal structures of your body to produce a live, moving image. The radiologist performing the scan moves the handheld probe over the skin, aided by a lubricating gel to ensure good contact.

What is it used for?

Most commonly, ultrasounds are used to check on unborn babies in the womb, but they’re also commonly used to check heart activity, or examine other organs such as the kidneys and liver.


A CT scan, meaning a computerised tomography scan, is similar to an MRI but makes use of x-rays instead. It provides detailed images of different structures in the body, usually to help with monitoring ongoing conditions.

How does it work?

A CT scanner looks similar to an MRI scanner but is much shorter so can be more comfortable to use, and instead of magnets uses x-rays to focus on specific areas of the body.

What is it used for?

CT scans are usually used to monitor and inform ongoing treatment of conditions, such as locating tumours and their size and shape, or checking on the conditions of organs after a stroke or an injury.


ECG stands for electrocardiogram, a test that’s used to investigate and monitor heart conditions using sensors attached to the chest.

How does it work?

Sensor pads are attached to the skin and hooked up to a monitor, detecting the electrical signals given off by the beating of your heart. They can be carried out while lying down or exercising on a treadmill or bike at a hospital appointment, or with a small device that can be carried around for a 24-hour test.

What is it used for?

You might be prescribed an ECG test by a cardiologist or GP to investigate potential heart problems, or to monitor an ongoing condition that affects the heart.

If you’d like to find out more about some of the different areas we can diagnose and treat, take a look at treatments at Ramsay Health Care, or if you have anything you’d like to talk to us about, don’t hesitate to get in touch and we can arrange an appointment.

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