If you’re told you need an MRI scan for an important organ like the brain or the heart, you may immediately jump to the worst possible conclusion. But in reality, MRIs are used as a diagnostic tool for a wide range of conditions and can even be used to rule out the serious issues you may be worried about. An MRI scan allows your doctor to get detailed images of your internal organs, bones, and tissues that they could not otherwise obtain without invasive procedures. From there, they can start to make determinations about if further evaluation or treatment is needed. Read on to learn about how MRIs work, what to expect, and what they might tell you.
How MRIs Work
Magnetic Resonance Imaging, or an MRI scan, is a non-invasive imaging technology that produces three-dimensional anatomical images of the body. This is done to detect, diagnose, and monitor diseases. This is able to be done by using sophisticated technology that detects the change in direction of the protons within living tissue.
MRIs are based on powerful magnets, whose strong magnetic field forces protons in the body to align with the field. A radiofrequency current is then used to stimulate the protons, causing them to strain against the pull of the magnetic field. When the radiofrequency is shut off, MRI sensors detect the energy released during realignment. This allows physicians to identify various types of tissues on imaging.
To undergo an MRI, a patient will be placed inside a large magnetic tube, where they remain still in order to prevent blurring. Contrast agents may be used to increase the speed of the scan.
Why MRIs Are Used
MRI scans are particularly suited to imaging of non-bony parts and soft tissues within the body. The brain, spinal cord, nerves, muscles, ligaments, and tendons are all seen on MRI scans more clearly than on other scans such as x-rays or CT scans. AN MRI can differentiate between gray and white matter.
Because an MRI does not use x-rays or other radiation, it is commonly used when frequent imaging may be required for diagnosis or ongoing monitoring, especially in vulnerable areas like the brain.
Specialized types of MRIs may also be called for, such as a functional MRI that is used to observe brain structures and determine which areas of the brain “activate” during various cognitive tasks. This can help advance understanding of brain organization.
Reasons for an MRI
There is a wide range of reasons you may be sent for an MRI scan. Any trauma or potential injuries usually warrants a scan, as not only can they show the injury clearly, they may be able to rule out more severe conditions that require emergency treatment. In addition to injuries, MRIs can be ordered on specific parts of the body for diagnosis.
An MRI scan of the brain and spinal cord may help a doctor identify:
- An aneurysm
- Brain tumors
- Injuries to the brain
- Multiple sclerosis
- Problems with the inner ear or eye
- Spinal cord injuries
MRIs of the heart and blood vessel can diagnose:
- Blockages and swelling in blood vessels
- Damage from a heart attack
- Heart valve problems
- Problems with the aorta
- Structural issues in the heart’s walls and chambers
- Tumors inside the heart
Bone and joint MRIs will look for:
- Bone infections
- Tumors involving bones and joints
- Damage to the joints, including torn cartilage, ligaments, or tendons
- Herniated discs and spinal cord compression
- Fractures that cannot be seen on x-rays
Other uses for MRIs may include:
- Screening for breast cancer or monitoring of active cancer cases
- Identifying issues of the liver, kidneys, ovaries, pancreas, prostate, or spleen
Are MRIs Risky?
It’s important to know what to expect when getting an MRI. Some people worry that being sent for an MRI can be dangerous. A doctor will always weigh the risks and benefits of a scan like this, though MRIs are generally safe. MRIs avoid the radiation used in other scans, but the strong magnetic field can be damaging if you have any metal implants or piercings in your body. Some people also react poorly to the confined space and loud noises involved in an MRI. Doctors will always work with you to make sure you are comfortable and prepared for an MRI.
The doctors at AICA Marietta have access to onsite diagnostic imaging and radiologists trained in reading MRI results. Our team will then use this information to keep you fully informed of your diagnosis and the steps needed to create a fully comprehensive treatment plan. Contact us today for your first consultation!