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Magnetic Resonance Imaging or MRI

MRI doctors

What is MRI or CT scan? Learn more about MRI, Contrast, CT Scan, Xray & How they can help diagnose injury & treating diseases?

What is Magnetic Resonance Imaging or MRI?

MRI or Magnetic Resonance Imaging is an important diagnostic tool that your doctor may recommend to help diagnose your condition or provide important information about your anatomy prior to surgery. It is a painless, safe and effective examination that can be performed in a hospital or an MRI center. A typical MRI examination can take anywhere from 20-45 minutes, although some can be longer.

MRI testing is used to help medical professionals visualize the body’s muscles, ligaments, cartilage, and joints in a clear and precise way. Using MRI technology, your doctor can evaluate brain tumors, spinal abnormalities and other soft tissue structures which simply cannot be visualized using x-ray or CT scan technology.

How Does MRI Work?

The images generated by MRI are created using a combination of strong radio waves and magnetic fields that interact with the polarity of the body’s cells. The patient is slid into a large circular opening in the MRI scanner for the examination. It is important that the patient remain still while the test is being performed to minimize blurriness of the images.

During the examination, 2-dimensional images are generated of the body part being studied. There are also techniques that combine certain images to create 3-dimensional images as well. Using this technique, an MRI can offer a doctor views that simply cannot be seen with an ultrasound, x-ray, or CT scan.

MRI scanning provides imaging that slices through the anatomy being studied. In a way, MRI scanning reveals the inside of the body the same way slicing a tomato reveals the inside of a tomato. Each slice reveals a different inner view and no two slices are identical.

Are there Radiation Risks?

Unlike CT scanning or X-rays, MRI scanning does not use ionizing radiation. Instead, radio waves and magnetic fields affect the polarity of the cells within the body, allowing it to be imaged using MRI technology.

In fact, given that MRI scanning does not use radiation, it is sometimes used for pregnant women, although ultrasound is generally the diagnostic testing of choice for pregnant women.

What Kinds of Conditions Does It Show?

MRI scanning is a very versatile diagnostic tool that is used to evaluate a wide range of conditions, including:

What Can a Patient Expect from MRI?

Before the MRI scanning begins, you will be asked to lay onto a table which will be slid into a large doughnut-shaped machine. Some patients report feeling nervous at this point, but this is normal. Your technician may recommend keeping your eyes closed, to minimize feeling claustrophobic. If you are feeling very nervous about the examination, you should ask your doctor to prescribe a sedative to help you relax during the scan.

Once you are inside, the MRI scanner will produce strong magnetic fields around you and direct radio waves at your body. You will not feel these waves or magnetic fields, as the procedure itself is completely painless. You will hear tapping and banging sounds coming from the machine during the examination. The scanner can be loud, so your technician may offer you earplugs to dull the noise.

The examination will result in a series of images that slice through the part of your body being examined. The images will be reviewed by a radiologist, a doctor who specializes in the interpretation of these types of studies. Once the radiologist reviews the images, a report will be generated which will include the radiologist’s opinion about the conditions, if any, that the testing revealed.

The radiologist will then forward the report to your doctor. Your doctor will consider whether the findings made by the radiologist are consistent with your physical complaints. MRI scanning will also help doctors determine whether you need surgery. It can take up to 2-3 days for a radiologist’s report to be finalized.

MRI Testing With and Without Contrast

A contrast solution will sometimes be injected into a patient before taking certain images. This solution, a liquid dye, can highlight specific medical conditions that are not otherwise readily seen on a scan. 

The contrast medium is used to enhance and better define the imaging. However, a contrast solution is not necessary for every MRI scan. Your doctor will let you know whether it is necessary for your examination.

How is MRI Different from CT Scan or an X-Ray?

There are several differences between MRI and X-ray examinations. To begin with, MRI uses strong magnetic waves while X-ray utilizes radiation to capture images. Also, while MRI can offer 3 dimensional anatomical views, simple x-rays cannot.

MRI studies, unlike x-rays, are composed of a series of scans that slice through the body part being studied, offering a particularly detailed view. Lastly, MRI examination provides views of soft tissue structures, while x-rays only capture skeletal images.

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