Time, volume of patients, and previously undiagnosed conditions all contribute to making the initial patient examination challenging for the dedicated physician. Therefore, thermal imaging with an infrared camera system can be an efficient and highly objective way to get valuable physiological information that can make a difference. It is absolutely non-contact, with no radiation or penetrating forces being sent into the body.
The thermal imaging test facilitates early diagnosis and successful treatment plans. It may help to avoid the necessity for performing more invasive tests that could be painful, stressful, or even hazardous, along with those procedures that might prolong recovery.
The scanning of children and expectant mothers are excellent examples of the value with thermal imaging. At the Department of Pediatric Surgery, Medical University of Graz, Austria, “IRT (infrared thermal imaging) was found to be an excellent noninvasive tool in the follow-up of hemangiomas, vascular malformations and digit amputations related to reimplantation, burns as well as skin and vascular growth after biomaterial implants in newborns with gastroschisis and giant omphaloceles. In the emergency room, it was a valuable tool for rapid diagnosis of extremity thrombosis, varicoceles, inflammation, abscesses, gangrene and wound infections.”
With the expectant mother, the thermal image poses no risk to the baby, especially if the mother is complaining of other health conditions or suffers from low back problems. The University of Michigan, Department of Ob-Gyn in the mid 1990’s conducted a study with infrared thermal imaging for the evaluation of preterm rupture of the fetal membranes. It showed potential for being a sensitive clinical indicator for chorioamniotic infection. It’s an ideal test to provide the physician with additional information which can be used to better treat the mother.
Thermal imaging has applications in breast oncology, neurology, integrative medicine, plastic surgery, dentistry, orthopedics, acupuncture, occupational medicine, pain management, vascular medicine, cardiology and veterinary medicine. Novel uses now being developed include sleep studies and stress research.
One of the controversial applications has been for breast examinations. Of some note is the recognition that invasive breast cancer in its early stages exhibits little structural abnormality (thus escaping routine structural imaging recognition). Rather, it is detected often by a skilled technician using their hands to assess the side to side breast temperature differential. Unfortunately, a poorly conducted U.S. National Cancer Institute study in the late 1970’s with untrained physicians and cumbersome early thermal cameras tainted the prospects of the test being used extensively in this area. The emphasis was directed towards mammography.
Despite early advocates of the test, it was not until the late 1990’s, with improved efficiency and sensitivity of infrared imaging cameras, did the viability of thermal imaging for breast evaluations become recognized. Most recently, New York Presbyterian Hospital, Cornell, NY, found infrared thermal imaging to be “a valuable adjunct to mammography and ultrasound, especially in women with dense breast parenchyma.” While it is not a replacement for the mammogram, the non-radiating aspect is certainly attractive. The level of ease for conducting the test, with regular risk-free follow-up at low cost, is also appealing.
As thermal imaging is adjunctive, it is not considered solely diagnostic. In relation to X-rays, it can complement the structural information, leading to a more thorough examination. It also helps with other imaging methods by enabling a more precise set of views, rather than a generalized approach, thereby reducing exposure. At the Department of Neurosurgery in Yongdong Hospital, Seoul, Korea, “the areas of thermal change in cervical disc herniation can be helpful in diagnosing the level of disc protrusion and in detecting the symptomatic level in multiple cervical disc herniation patients.”
Some patients are not candidates for MRI, for example, and therefore, thermal imaging is a low cost initial step, especially when symptoms are non-specific or multi-faceted. Its use in brain surgery at the University of Southern California is revolutionary. They’ve determined the potential for thermal imaging to locate the margins of primary and metastatic brain tumors. Earlier work, published in 2002 by Mayo Clinic, demonstrated, intraoperatively, that infrared imaging “exhibited the distinct thermal footprints of 14 of 16 brain tumors.” It provided “real-time assessment of cerebral vessel patency and cerebral perfusion.”
Thermal imaging helps to verify a patient’s progress through therapy and rehabilitation. Repeated passive infrared images can be sequentially compared. It can help document whether novel and unusual treatments and therapies have benefit, and show progress for the patient. The test can also indicate whether change is temporary or more permanent. Due to the digital nature of infrared thermal imaging, the actual cost of operation is minimal, and thermal imaging equipment prices have come down substantially, starting at less than ten thousand dollars U.S.. It’s now a very affordable and vital tool for every clinic and hospital.
Just as the lost pyramids and cities of ancient Egypt have been found recently with satellite infrared imaging, advanced medical applications are being discovered every day with the same technology and thermal principles.