What is an MRI?
Ed Cordivin, MD, is a radiologist at Page Hospital.
Question: My doctor has just ordered a MRI for me. What is this and how can it help me?
Answer: Magnetic Resonance Imaging, or MRI, is an advanced method of generating clear images of the body without the use of X-rays. This allows physicians to detect developing diseases or abnormalities earlier than ever before.
MRIs are used most frequently to evaluate the brain and the structures connected to the brain and the spinal cord, as well as the bones and joints of the body. It may also be used to examine the abdomen, heart and blood vessels and to detect breast cancer that might not be visible in a mammogram.
Radio waves travel through a magnetic field toward the water-containing tissues in your body. MRI images show the difference in water content between tissues, and because some conditions (such as tumors and any kind of infection) can increase fluid content, MRI is especially useful for diagnosing these conditions.
No special preparation for a MRI is required. Most MRI scanners are like tunnels, although some are open on the sides. The scanning process can take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour, during which time you’ll need to remain as still as possible inside the scanner. You’ll hear loud sounds as the scanner captures information for the images. For some MRI scans, dye is injected into a vein in your arm to more easily identify abnormal tissue.
MRI results usually are available within a day. Your doctor will discuss the results with you and may show you the images to explain your diagnosis. If treatment is necessary, the results are invaluable. For instance, if a lump is detected during a breast cancer screening, the image is used to pinpoint the location to biopsy and determine the best course of treatment if a tumor is cancerous.
The only risk is to patients from an MRI are to those with implanted devices such as infusion pumps, pacemakers, cochlear implants, metal filings in the eye, and cerebral aneurysm clips These could possibly malfunction in the MRI scanner. You should tell your doctor about any metal inside your body, although usually it isn’t an issue. MRI is very safe and doesn’t expose you to any harmful radiation.