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MRI: what is it and what are its benefits?

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Ways technology has improved healthcare

MRI is a safe and non-invasive type of body scanning. Read this article to get to know all the basic information about it.

The MRI acronym stands for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). This technology enables medical professionals to diagnose diverse health conditions quickly and accurately. Also, it helps doctors to identify how their patients respond to the treatments. From this article, you’ll get to know the essence and benefits of an MRI scan.

How Do MRIs Work?

To create detailed cross-sectional images of the organs and tissues within the body, MRI relies on a strong magnetic field and radio waves. An MRI scanner is a large tube with openings on both ends. There is a table in the middle where the patient slides in.

Short-bore systems are smaller and can accommodate only certain parts of the human body. This comes in handy when the patient is obese or claustrophobic. Yet the quality of the images might not be as high as closed MRIs.

The machine contains two powerful magnets. Unlike CT scans or X-rays, they don’t expose people to potentially harmful ionizing radiation. It is a non-invasive painless procedure.

The scanner itself doesn’t show any images. Instead, it sends the data to a computer and the latter creates files that a professional can analyze. A doctor who specializes in medical images is called a radiologist.

When Do You Need an MRI?

You might need to find an MRI if you have the following health issues:

  • Anomalies of the brain and spinal cord
  • Bone infections
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Blood vessel damage
  • Cancer
  • Stroke
  • Eye and inner ear problems
  • Heart problems
  • Diseases of abdominal organs
  • Tumors, cysts, and other anomalies in various parts of the body
  • Injuries or abnormalities of the joints
  • Breast cancer screening for women
  • Suspected uterine anomalies in women undergoing evaluation for infertility

This method is especially useful for looking at soft tissues and the nervous system. The type of scan that maps brain activity is known as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

How to Prepare for an MRI Scan

You don’t need to prepare for this procedure in advance. In the hospital, you might need to do the following.

  • Change into a gown
  • Remove any metal jewelry or accessories

If your own clothing is loose-fitting and has no metal fasteners, you might not need to use the gown.

No metal objects should be present in the scanner to not interfere with magnets. People who have metallic foreign bodies under their skin (such as shrapnel, bullets, body piercings, pacemakers, aneurysm clips, or cochlear implants) won’t be able to undergo the scan. Moreover, certain types of tattoo inks might contain metal.

Before you enter the MRI room, you’ll need to remove the following items:

  • Smartphone
  • Coins
  • Keys
  • Eyeglasses
  • Dentures
  • Hearing aids
  • Underwire bra
  • Watch
  • Wig

To enhance the visibility of a particular tissue, the doctor might inject an intravenous contrast liquid in the patient’s vein on their arm or hand. One of the most often-used substances of this sort is called gadolinium, which might leave a metal taste in your mouth.

Medical staff will give you cushions and blankets to feel comfortable in the scanner. They will provide you with headphones or earplugs to block out the loud noises of the machine. The scan will start only when you confirm that you’re ready.

If you feel anxious, you can ask the doctor to give you medication. Children might need to receive sedation or anesthesia, depending on their age and intellectual development. While you’re in the scanner, the MRI technician will be communicating with you via the intercom to make sure that you’re comfortable.

During the scan, you should be ready to do the following.

  • Stay still because any movement would disrupt the images (the doctor might even recommend using straps)
  • Keep up with the inevitable clanging noises
  • Hold your breath for a short while, if the medical professional asks you to

If you feel that you absolutely need to interrupt the scan, you should ask the technician to do so. Usually, this happens off the lack of psychological comfort. On the physiological level, you won’t feel anything during the procedure — except for, maybe, a slight twitching sensation. This might happen because the machine will be stimulating nerves in your body and you shouldn’t worry about it.

Typically, the procedure lasts from 20 to 90 minutes. In most cases, one scan should be enough to get detailed high-quality pictures. Otherwise, the patient can have another scan immediately. Then, the radiologist will prepare a report for the requesting doctor. The latter will explain to you the meaning of test results and will let you know what you should do next.

If you didn’t take any medicine that helped you relax, you can go home or elsewhere right after the scan. But if you took medicine, you might need to stay in the hospital until you’re fully awake and you shouldn’t drive a car or bike until tomorrow.

Contraindications and Side Effects

Before the procedure, you should inform the doctor if you:

  • Have kidney disease, liver disease, asthma, or other health problems
  • Have any allergies
  • Recently had surgery

You shouldn’t get contrast dye if you meet one of the following criteria:

  • Are pregnant
  • Have severe kidney disease
  • Had an allergic reaction to this substance in the past

If you’re pregnant but need an MRI scan, you can safely do it during the last two trimesters. But you should avoid this technology during the first trimester unless it’s absolutely necessary — because this is when the baby’s organs develop.

When the contrast dye is used, very few patients might complain of the following side effects:

  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Pain or burning at the point of injection

Yet normally, MRIs should have no side effects.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, this article came in handy, and now you better understand what MRI is. This technology has revolutionized medicine and its application range keeps expanding. It’s suitable for patients of any age and its results are highly reliable. MRIs are painless, non-invasive, and don’t expose patients to radiation. In the future, the demand for this method is likely to grow.