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Like many careers in today's world, diagnostic imaging hasn’t been around for most of human history. As we discussed in our article about x-rays, even the earliest form of diagnostic imaging is just a little over 100 years old. Of course, once medical imaging got going, it was hard to stop. Today you can walk in for medical imaging services and explore the inner workings of your body with MRIs, CT scans, DEXA, ultrasounds, x-rays, and other technologies that would have seemed like magic to people of the past. There’s no doubt that advances in imaging have helped people live longer, fuller lives.

But what about the parts of history before there were medical imaging devices? For most of the time we’ve been on this planet we certainly didn’t have access to bone density scans! When something hurt in your body, what did you do?

Live With It

Throughout most of human history, you simply had to deal with whatever pain you were feeling at the time. If you had a pain in your back, there was no way of knowing that you had an L5/S1 disk bulge that today could easily be seen with an MRI machine. You certainly wouldn’t know if the bulge in your belly was from a tumor or a cyst, or if you had intestinal blockage. While someone a long time ago discovered that willow bark could treat pain (acetylsalicylic acid, AKA aspirin), it certainly didn’t do anything to fix the hernia...because you didn’t know what a hernia was!

In the past, you simply had to live with it. Of course, you might also...


The fact that you were living with a deadly disease meant that you’d die with a deadly disease. Throughout most of human history, people pretty much had to guess what people died from. While there were some ailments that were obvious, such as the plague or tuberculosis, other times the cause of death was the family’s or country doctor’s best guess (Bad heart? Exhaustion? Severe gastric distress?)

In today’s world, you don’t have to be so oblivious as to what’s going on in your body. Medical imaging can help you find out what’s wrong, how worried to be about it, and how to treat it.

Exploratory Surgery

Luckily, diagnostic imaging has done away with a good deal of exploratory surgery, because we’re able to see what’s going on inside the body long before a doctor picks up a scalpel. Imaging of today also tells the doctor if there’s anything to find at all; why cut into the bowels when the MRI shows there’s nothing there to find in the first place?

As you can probably guess, exploratory surgery used to be much worse than it is today (and infinitely worse before 1846 before the use of anesthesia). In many cases, the infection received afterward would end up killing you anyway in the days before germ theory.

Have you ever thought about just how lucky you are to be living in a time where we can give a name to ailments and treat them accordingly? We’re certainly a long way from curing every disease and fixing every injury, but diagnostic imaging services certainly give you and your doctor a better idea of what’s going on in your body.