What is an MRI?

By Robert Lim, PTA

What is an MRI?

An MRI, also is known as magnetic resonance imaging, is a non-invasive imaging technology that produces three-dimensional detailed anatomical images of a body part that is being scanned. It is often used for disease detection, diagnosis, and treatment monitoring.

Image of a woman getting an MRI

MRI machine

The scanner is a tube that is surrounded by a giant circular magnet. The patient is usually placed on a movable bed that is inserted into the magnet. The magnet creates a strong magnetic field that aligns the protons of hydrogen atoms, exposed to a beam of radio waves. A computer processes the receiver information, which produces an image.

What are some conditions that may prevent you from having an MRI?

When scheduling your appointment and before your exam, you may want to let the staff and the technologist about any conditions that may affect the MRI.  The radiology staff will let then let you know whether you can have the MRI exam and whether the exam needs to be modified for your particular condition. Below are some common conditions that you may want to let the staff know about.

  • Pacemaker.
  • Pregnancy.
  • Claustrophobia.
  • Implanted drug infusion device (i.e., insulin pump).
  • Artificial heart valves.
  • Aneurysm clips.
  • Cochlear implants.
  • Metallic implants and prosthesis.
  • Vascular stent or stent graft.

What can you expect during the Exam?

The exam duration will vary, but the average is 45 minutes to one hour per body part. During the actual exam the patient will need to lie still . Depending on the body part in question, you may need to hold your breath for up to 30 seconds. The MRI magnet is usually permanently open on both ends. There is also a two-way communication system for any information regarding the MRI scan between the patient and the MRI technologist.  During the scan, you will hear a loud intermittent banging noise, which is very common. You will be provided with earplugs or headphones to help minimize the noise during the scan.

What are the reasons that you may require an MRI?

Several scenarios may require you to get an MRI to help diagnose either the following:

  • Spine problems in the cervical, thoracic, and lumbar spine.
  • Cartilage abnormalities in either the shoulders, hips, knees, or ankle.
  • Problems with your spinal cord.
  • Ligament issues in any of the body parts.

Related Articles: X-ray, MRI and CT Scan and Should I have treatment before an MRI?

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