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What is a Non-Invasive Procedure?

M. McGee
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A non-invasive procedure is a type of medical examination where the skin is not broken and body cavities are not probed beyond their normal means. Common non-invasive procedures fall into three categories: diagnostic imaging, tissue palpitation and visual examinations. A non-invasive procedure is often the first step in diagnosing and treating illnesses.

There are three types of medical procedures: non-invasive, minimally invasive and invasive (often just referred to as surgery). Minimally invasive procedures and open surgery typically require some sort of incision to allow access to the inside of the patient. At bare minimum, the surgeon needs access to areas of the body beyond the outer areas.

A non-invasive procedure has a few traits that separate it from the other procedures. The skin cannot be broken during the examination. If the skin is ruptured during an injury and the doctor examines the wound, it is still non-invasive. It would become minimally invasive if the doctor further opened the wound or placed an instrument inside the injury.

The second common trait for a non-invasive procedure is probe depth and location. Touching the outer part of the body is fine, but touching the inner areas of the body may not be. Using instruments to look inside open body areas, such as the pupil or ear, is fine. Deeper penetration, such as a rectal or sinus examination, moves the procedure to minimally-invasive.

There are three main varieties of non-invasive procedure. Diagnostic imaging uses various methods to look inside a body without breaking the skin. Electromagnetic radiation (X-rays), ultrasounds or computed tomography (CT) scans all fall into this category. The images gathered by these scans are vital to treating a large number of problems or determining if a more invasive form of surgery is required.

Tissue palpitation requires a doctor to touch affected areas to check for damage or injury. This form of non-invasive procedure is used to find damage below the skin or pinpoint a source of trouble or pain. While the information gathered during a tissue palpitation is often accurate, most doctors will follow up their findings with some form of diagnostic imaging.

Visual examinations are the last common non-invasive procedure. These procedures cover looking for scratches, bruises or other obvious forms of trauma. Using instruments to look inside a person’s ears, nose or mouth generally fall within this group, provided there is no penetration beyond what is commonly possible for those orifices. For instance, using a tongue depressor to look down a throat is non-invasive, but putting a scope down a person’s throat is not.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
M. McGee
By M. McGee
Mark McGee is a skilled writer and communicator who excels in crafting content that resonates with diverse audiences. With a background in communication-related fields, he brings strong organizational and interpersonal skills to his writing, ensuring that his work is both informative and engaging.
Discussion Comments
By shell4life — On Apr 12, 2012

@StarJo – Yes, vaginal exams are considered invasive. My doctor told me this right before my very first one. She said that she was about to do an invasive procedure, and I shouldn't worry, but I should prepare myself for what was about to happen.

I think it is defined as invasive because the doctor inserts an instrument into your vaginal cavity. She doesn't merely glance up there with her eyes. She has to open it up in order to see it better.

The first exam is always traumatic, I believe. Mine was painful, because I had a yeast infection at the time. Though I dreaded the next annual exam, I found out that it wasn't nearly as painful when nothing was wrong, though it was still just as invasive.

By StarJo — On Apr 12, 2012

Would a yearly vaginal exam be considered invasive or minimally invasive? I would think it would be purely invasive, because it seems so extreme.

I hate having it done, but I know it is necessary for the early detection of cancer. Also, my doctor will not renew my birth control prescription without this exam.

I really feel as though I am being personally invaded during the exam. I'm sure it isn't considered non-invasive, but I'm just curious about how invasive it is categorized as.

By OeKc05 — On Apr 11, 2012

A few years ago, I decided to participate in a clinical trial for a new drug. I showed up at the university conducting the study, and the nurse informed me that I would have to have a physical examination.

I think she picked up on the concern in my voice when I asked her what all that entailed. She quickly assured me that it would be non-invasive. They weren't going to examine me in any way that would cause pain.

I knew that the study would require an in-depth look at my overall health, so I was glad to hear that they would only be doing x-rays and a general exam. All the things that I fear about a regular doctor visit were not conducted here.

By orangey03 — On Apr 10, 2012

My doctor used tissue palpitation to determine whether or not I had a kidney infection. I had been urinating very frequently and I had a slight fever, along with lower abdominal cramps. He told me that pressing down on the sides of my abdomen would reveal whether or not I had tenderness in my kidneys.

I didn't expect it to hurt as much as it did. I really thought the infection was confined to my bladder, but when he mashed down hard on my abdomen, I yelled out in protest.

He gave me antibiotics and told me to drink cranberry juice. That exam was simple enough. I didn't feel violated at all.

M. McGee
M. McGee
Mark McGee is a skilled writer and communicator who excels in crafting content that resonates with diverse audiences....
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