Do you remember being a dirt-loving little kid and turning over a rock outside only to discover a family of earthworms or roly-polies hiding out underneath? Sometimes whatever lies beneath those rocks scatters quickly, and sometimes the one turning over the rock is the one to scatter quickly! As adults, some of us leave the literal rock-turning-over to our kiddos, while we turn over some rocks of our own in a less literal, but just as wonder-inspiring fashion. Maybe we turn over rocks that open up new hobbies or even new careers for us. Maybe we discover a new cuisine we never knew we’d love. Maybe we find an author we can’t believe we’ve lived our lives without ever reading. Maybe it’s none of those or all of them. Maybe we discover one little fact that leads us to dig deeper and deeper into the “soil” underneath. One of those rocks in my life is lesser known modalities of healthcare—and one of the fascinating specimens under that rock is medical thermography. Let’s take a closer look at what exactly medical thermography has to offer all of us.
First off, just exactly what is thermography?
…and for those of us who like a little history now and then, where did it originate?
A Basic Description of Thermography
Thermography is a heat sensitive picture taken of your body. When the infrared camera takes your picture, different areas of the body will show up different colors depending on what the skin’s surface temperature is in those areas. Areas of injury, inflammation, disease, stress, etc. will create a temperature difference compared to surrounding areas in the body.
Origins of Thermography
So, is thermography something new? Is that why I didn’t learn about it until I was in my thirties? Interestingly enough—no, thermography isn’t new. Certainly the technology has advanced significantly over the years, but even before infrared cameras existed—WAY before then—Hippocrates himself, the founder of modern medicine, was employing the idea of difference in skin surface temperature indicating underlying pathologies. He would smear a thin layer of mud on his patients to see which areas dried the fastest (and thus were the areas emitting the most heat)—and those areas, indicating a significant temperature difference, were thought to be the areas of disease in a patient.
“In whatever part of the body excess of heat or cold is felt, the disease is there to be discovered.”– Hippocrates
Thermography began developing towards what it is today with the invention of the thermometer in the 1800s. In 1835, a device was invented that established temperature in damaged areas of the body was higher than in other areas of the body. It was through this device that the standard temperature of a body being 98.6 degrees was established. Infrared technology/observation via imaging was first used during wartimes to observe the movement of troops. Post wartime, this technology was declassified and brought back into clinical medicine for use. The 1960s brought much research into thermal imaging, and the 70s brought mini-computers with color displays and the ability to analyze and store images and data. By the 1980s, training centers for physicians as well as technicians were helping establish professionals who could make medical thermography available to the public. It was also in the 80s that the FDA approved medical thermal imaging for use where variations of skin temperature might occur. And today, the state of the art technology utilized in thermal imaging makes it a great—and SAFE—resource for our health.
What can thermography do for us?
Why utilize thermography as an adjunct part of our healthcare?
1.) Some of the common areas thermography is used include (but aren’t limited to):
- Vascular medicine
- Sports medicine
- Breast health
We will look at each of those areas a little later, but simply put-thermography can provide a literal picture of, a powerful image of insight into, the health of our bodies. Because thermography can view the entire body, some pathologies it can be used to look at are breast health, dental health, deep vein thrombosis, immune and lymphatic health, digestive and colonic health, inflammation, heart health, sinus infections, thyroid health, and other organ health (liver, pancreas, stomach, etc. etc.)…and so much more!
2.) Thermography Involves No Touching
Thermography involves no touching. The process may vary some from practice to practice, but at Insight Thermography, the process is incredibly safe and considerate. The technician is behind a screen and operates the camera remotely, so your privacy is completely respected. There is zero poking or prodding of any sort.
3.) Thermography is Completely Safe
Zero radiation is involved. Radiation is a major concern with most medical imaging (X-rays, CT scans, etc). Radiation exposure is linked to various health concerns. Thermography can examine so much in the body– at zero health risk to us.
4.) Thermography is Accurate
When used as a health study routinely, thermography has been shown to be effective at finding early signs of some inflammation/disease up to 8 years before some other health study tools. Thermography can give us a picture of our health before we are even aware anything is going on—and this extends past the health of one single part of the body, into our entire body system—nerves, organs, tissues, everything! Thermography has been found to be a reliable tool in many fields of healthcare.
5.) For Early Detection, Thermography May Just Be Unparalleled
Routine thermograms detect changes at the cellular level. This allows changes to be seen before the actual formation of physical symptoms of disease! For example, by the time a tumor has grown to a size detectable by standard tools, it may have been growing for up to seven years! Thermography can also view the entire body, including areas like the armpit, which some testing is not always adept at assessing.
Let’s look at the three areas mentioned previously as common areas utilizing thermal imaging:
Thermography can be used to identify heat patterns throughout the body, including in our blood vessels. Our bodies could give an indication of a vascular problem in many ways, some being pain, swelling, and/or tingling. By identifying the irregular distribution of heat, the potential for various vascular disorders can be identified, and further treatment sought by the medical provider of your choice. Thermal imaging has proven very useful in this field and has high reliability.
Thermography can help identify areas of inflammation not only after symptoms such as pain present, but prior to any symptoms being present. This could be really relevant information to an athlete, to know where to take extra care of their body BEFORE pain with injury is present, perhaps avoiding injury or further damage to the joint/tissue/etc. This information would allow an athlete to adjust/cater their training schedule or regimen as necessary to their body’s current issues. Thermography has largely contributed in the field of sports medicine, especially in regards to the detection of pain syndromes, which are difficult to diagnose. Thermal imaging is able to take a unique look at the nervous system, “which records via somatocuteanous reflex, the sympathetic response to pain and injury.”
We’ve looked at this a little bit already, but when it comes to breast health, thermography is a great tool to consider adding to your routine. With its ability to see changes before we may even have any symptoms that any change is taking place, it really gives us the opportunity to be in prevention mode, not just treatment mode. And because thermography can detect these changes years before other imaging could in some cases, and years before some women would even HAVE any routine imaging done, it is invaluable!
What to expect if you decide to get a thermogram:
I have had two thermograms, my most recent one was done at Insight. What you can expect at Insight is a friendly, quiet environment. You will be taken to a room, where you will be seated in the imaging area, behind a partition screen so that you are alone in that area. Your thermographer, Erin or Mandi, will be on the other side of the partition, so that your privacy is completely respected. You will disrobe to whatever degree required for your specific thermogram, then your body will be allowed to adjust to the room’s temperature. During this time, you will go over some basic health information with your thermographer (who is still on the other side of the partition and who will stay there the entire time you are having your imaging done). Your initial paperwork will already be filled out before you arrive, unless you prefer to fill it out in office a little before your appointment, so Erin or Mandi will be entering your information into their system and expanding on your answers as you instruct them. When this process is complete and your body temperature has regulated, you will be directed on how to stand/sit for your imaging. All of the photos are taken remotely, so again, you are in complete privacy the entire time. If you have ever had to disrobe for any type of imaging in your life, likely someone has been present in the room with you and seen you without some of your clothing—that element isn’t present or necessary at Insight. When all of your imaging is complete, you will get dressed and visit with your thermographer, who will let you know when to expect to hear from them with your scan results. The images are then sent to be read and interpreted by a licensed thermologist, and a copy of the results/interpretation is emailed to you. Insight will be happy to help you decide what your next steps should be based on your results/interpretation. They can also provide a copy of the report to your doctor or healthcare practitioner. It IS important that you establish a baseline thermography pattern, so it is recommended you have another thermogram 3-6 months after your initial thermogram. After that, yearly thermograms are recommended. The entire process is painless and quite fascinating—you truly do gain so much insight into your body!
Lastly, Let’s Talk A Little More About That Rock…
Sometimes when we turn a rock over, we truly are fascinated and stop and stare, or take a closer look, or even go and read about the specimens we find under that rock. Other times we may be intrigued but mildly terrified so we put the rock back and carry on. I suppose there are times we may also toss that rock back down as quickly as we picked it up and then run away. When it comes to our healthcare, our lives, our bodies, the days we’re given on this earth…we get to choose. If we turn over a rock and see something new and intriguing, it might just be worth it to take a closer look, step out in a little confidence, try something new and formerly unknown to us—especially if that something may have the potential to be a tool to give us more time to turn over more rocks in life. If you have questions, drop them in the comments here or check out our website, facebook or instagram profiles. If you’re ready, give Insight Thermography a call at 405-850-1157 today. Erin and Mandi would love to meet you!