Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a non-invasive, radiation-free scanning technology that is used to view detailed images of the tissues and organs within the body. During an MRI test, radio waves and magnetic fields are used to produce clear and detailed three-dimensional images of organs, as well as the hard and soft tissues throughout the body.
Reasons for an MRI
An MRI is considered multifunctional and can be used to identify or locate an injury or abnormality, scan for developing problems, analyze damage from previous trauma, or aid in the planning of surgery. MRI produces images of any area of the body and can be an invaluable tool for detecting and diagnosing the following conditions:
- Tumors, infection, and cancer
- Eye and inner ear disorders
- Chronic nervous system disorders such as multiple sclerosis
- Dementia, and pituitary gland disorders
- Back pain, spinal cord injury, herniated disc, and pinched nerves
- Heart and vascular disease and stroke
- Joint and musculoskeletal disorders
- Degenerative disorders such as arthritis; deterioration of joint surfaces
In addition, an MRI can be used to view and assess major organs including the brain, heart, lungs, liver, kidney, spleen, and pancreas, as well as the male and female reproductive organs, bladder and pelvis.
Benefits of an MRI
The MRI procedure is safe for nearly all patients and is is the only imaging tool to produce images of the hard and soft tissue within the body. The MRI procedure is an effective diagnostic tool that does not involve any exposure to radiation; unlike X-Rays, radioisotopes, CT scans and other methods that use radiation, MRI uses radiofrequency waves. Radio waves detect differences in water concentration and distribution in various body tissues, and produce signals which are then used to create three dimensional images that may be viewed from many different angles.
The MRI Procedure
Prior to the MRI procedure, a sedative may be administered if the patient feels anxious or is worried about feeling claustrophobic. The MRI machine resembles a long tube with openings on both ends. Some newer MRI machines have a more open structure which may alleviate the feeling of anxiety for some patients. In some cases, a contrast dye may be injected intravenously to enhance the appearance of certain areas within the body.
During the MRI procedure, the patient lies still on a table that slides into the MRI unit. While the patients lies still, a series of scans obtain the images. The MRI machine uses a combination of magnetic fields and radio frequencies using a special computer to generate images of the body. The MRI test takes about one hour to complete.
Risks of an MRI
While an MRI is considered a safe diagnostic procedure with no major risks for most patients, the use of a strong magnetic field may lead to serious complications for some. An MRI exam is not recommended for patients with certain conditions, including those who have any of the following:
- Cardiac pacemaker
- Implantable cardioverter defibrillator
- Cochlear ear implant
- Intrauterine device
- Metal implants
- Surgical staples
An MRI is not recommended for women who may be pregnant or breast-feeding. Patients should discuss all related health conditions with their doctors before undergoing an MRI.