What Is Thermography?

Digital Infrared Thermal Imaging, or Thermography is a non invasive test of physiology (the science that deals with the functioning of the organism and its parts). It is a valuable procedure for alerting your doctor to changes that can indicate early stage breast disease and in the evaluation of unexplained pain. It is also helpful in monitoring therapy progress for multiple conditions and injuries such as back injuries, arthritis, headache, nerve damage, fibromyalgia, reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD), dental problems and TMJ, artery inflammation, vascular disease, carpal tunnel syndrome, disc disease, inflammatory pain conditions, skin cancer, sprains/strains, stroke screening, whiplash and also digestive disorders.

In 1965, Gershon-Cohen, a radiologist and researcher from the Albert Einstein Medical Center, introduced infrared imaging to the United States. Since the late 1970′s numerous medical centers and independent clinics have used this procedure in hundreds of thousands of patients. In 1982 the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) approved breast thermography as an adjunctive diagnostic breast cancer screening procedure. Thermography is not only used in medical applications, but also in industry, veterinary medicine, and dentistry.

How Does Thermography Work?

A trained clinical thermographer uses a very sensitive medical digital camera to take thermal images of the body and sends this data to a computer. All living organisms, including humans, radiate heat energy in specific patterns. These images are then interpreted by a qualified physician. In this way, skin temperatures, thermal and vascular patterns, and sympathetic nervous system responses can distinguish between normal and abnormal physiological function of the body. Tests of physiology may be a new concept to the reader. One example is an EKG, which is a physiological test of heart electrical function. Thermography is different than an X-ray, where radiation is passed through the body and an image is developed on an X-ray plate film to produce an anatomical image. Thermography provides valuable information that complements the anatomical images from MRI scans, CT scans, ultrasound, mammography, or X-ray.

How Does Thermography Detect Breast Problems?

The underlying principle by which infrared imaging detects pre-cancerous and cancerous growths is because tumors have an increased blood vessels in order to maintain the increased metabolism of cellular growth and multiplication. With this increased blood-flow comes an increased temperature, even in very small tumors. Abnormalities are often picked-up before a tumor is formed or is seen on mammography.

A woman’s thermal image is like a thumbprint and should not change over time. Serial studies are compared with previous studies for changes. If a women has never had a breast thermogram before, an initial thermogram is performed and then a repeat study is done three months later to establish an accurate baseline. After this, annual thermography can be performed and compared with previous studies. A breast thermogram takes about 20 minutes to do and does not touch or compress the breast, nor is there radiation exposure.

How Does Thermography Detect Pain?

X-rays, CT Scans, Ultrasound, and Magnetic Resonance Scans are all tests of “anatomy” and are measurements of structure of your body. But suppose you have pain that cannot be explained by these studies. Examples are pain due to an occult fracture that does not show up on X-ray, myofascial pain in the muscles, or leg pain related to inflamation in the blood vessels. Perhaps you have pain in the neck, back or head that is unexplained, or you were in an automobile accident but your X-rays were “normal.” Digital Infrared Thermal Imaging is the only method available for visualization of pain and pathology anywhere in the body. When a person is in pain, there are thermal pattern changes that take place in the skin related to activity in the autonomic nervous system. In addition, inflammatory conditions in the soft tissue (these are not seen on x-ray or MRI) will cause changes in thermal patterns. Nerve compression, such as in a “pinched” nerve in the neck or back, causes changes in thermal patterns. Certain diseases such as autoimmune diseases, multiple sclerosis, or toxic metal poisoning may all cause thermal changes.