Medical Tests

Before doctors can help you get well or feel better, they have to know what is going on (known as "making a diagnosis"). They begin by talking with you ("taking a history") and looking at you (performing a "physical examination"). When talking with your doctor, be sure to think about how you have been feeling, when the symptoms started, how they have changed over time, what makes them better or worse, etc. The more open you can be with your doctor, the more your doctor can figure out what is going on, give you the right treatment (Medical Therapy) and help you.

Lab

Medical tests play an important role because they can help doctors find out what is wrong or make sure that everything stays fine. There is only so much that can be learned from a history and physical exam. Tests use medical technology to fully evaluate many aspects of your body and our performed by Technicians. The type of test ordered by your doctor will depend on what the issue or concern is. If you do not understand the test that you will be having, be sure to ASK!

Labs

These involve taking specimens by a Lab Technician or Nurse to run chemical or microbiological (culture) evaluations. Chemical tests look for things like electrolytes, cell counts, and other imbalances. Culture tests see if bacteria, viruses, or fungi are present since some of these may be associated with illness.


  • Blood Tests. A small amount of blood is taken or drawn (phlebotomy) for testing.
  • Sputum Tests. This involves coughing up phlegm which can be evaluated for signs of infection.
  • Stool Tests. When having diarrhea or abdominal pain, evaluating your feces for infection and other things may be useful.
  • Urine Tests. Urine can also be tested for chemicals and infection. When obtaining a urine culture, care must be taken to obtain a clean specimen without contamination.

Imaging

Who said "a picture is worth a thousand words?" However, this is so true in Medicine. Doctors use a variety of tests to look inside your body to see what is going on. Of course, the part of your body that is imaged will depend on how you are feeling and what might be wrong. It is difficult to image a moving target, so Radiology or Ultrasound Technicians will ask you to stay calm and still during these examinations. Radiologists are doctors with special training to interpret these images.


  • X-Rays. X-rays can penetrate the body and allow doctors to see what is happening inside. While too much radiation can be harmful, doctors use X-rays only when absolutely necessary to make a diagnosis or monitor ongoing treatment.
  • Ultrasounds. Ultrasounds use sound waves to look at tissues and organs in the body. There is no radiation used and a cool gel is often placed between the probe and the skin to obtain good images (sound waves do not travel very well in air or through dense tissues like bone).
  • CT (or CAT) Scans. Known as computed tomography (or computed axial tomography), CT scans use radiation to look at parts of the body in much more detail. They produce cross-sectional images (or "slices") of an area allowing doctors to make diagnoses and follow treatments with much more accuracy.
  • MRI Scans. Magnetic resonance imaging (or MRI) employs powerful magnetic waves to visualize the inside of the human body. As you can imagine, although this does not use X-ray radiation, it is very important that patients do not have metal inside their bodies (e.g. metal implants) which could move or be distorted by the magnetic fields. In fact, metal objects of any kind are not allowed in MRI scanning rooms for this same reason. Noise? Yes, MRI scanners make a lot of noise.
Kid Treadmill

Other Tests


  • EKGs (or ECGs). Electrocardiograms are performed by EKG Technicians who place electrodes on your body to make a written record of your heart's activity (heart rate and rhythm). This can tell a lot about how your heart is doing.
  • Echocardiograms. Cardiac "echo" uses sound waves to look at the structures of your heart, including chambers, valves, and heart function. Since sound waves do not travel well in air, Echosonographers place a cool gel on your chest so the probe can obtain good images. You can often hear your heart pumping during the study (and see blue and orange colors on the monitor), as pictures of blood flowing through the heart are obtained. Cardiologists are doctors with special training on the heart and cardiovascular system, and they interpret echoes and EKGs.
  • Electroencephalograms (EEGs). EEG Technicians place electrodes on your head to monitor the electrical activity of your brain. This recording can be made for as little as 20 minutes, but may also be done overnight. Neurologists are brain specialists and are the best doctors to understand EEGs.
  • Spirometry and Pulmonary Function Tests (PFTs). Generally performed by Respiratory Therapists, spirometry is a way to measure how you are breathing. While PFTs are a more formal assessment of lung function, both spriometry and PFTs involve blowing into a machine to measure air flow and volume. Doctors who are lung experts are known as Pulmonologists.
  • Treadmill Tests. When patients have symptoms during activity or exercise, their doctor may want them to do a treadmill test. This is a carefully supervised test where you walk on an indoor treadmill with EKG electrodes on your chest and are monitored carefully for blood pressure and pulse.