Magnetic Resonance Imaging is a diagnostic procedure that is used most frequently to detect conditions associated with the brain and spinal cord. In simple words, this imaging test provides detailed pictures of organs and tissues in your body without any invasive (surgery) method.
During an MRI, computer-generated radio waves and magnetic fields are used. Moreover, most MRI machines are tube-shaped large magnets that can also produce 3D images from different angles. Since X-Rays and other radiation are not involved in this process, the test is recommended to look for diseases in the reproductive system also.
A radiology technologist or qualified radiologist will perform your MRI at an imaging center or a hospital's radiology department.
Why it’s done
MRI produces high-resolution pictures of the inside of any part of the body. This procedure is used to detect a variety of problems. However, other imaging tests like X-ray and CT scans are also done prior to this. If the condition is not diagnosed through such tests, MRI is further recommended.
Brain and Spinal Cord
MRI can be used to diagnose any of the following diseases of the brain and spinal cord. It may also be prescribed during brain tumor treatment to monitor the progression.
- Brain injury from trauma
- Spinal cord diseases
- A condition in which blood vessels in the brain inflate with blood (brain aneurysm)
- Eye disorders
- Ear disorders
- A disease of the immune system that damages nerves (multiple sclerosis)
Heart and Blood Vessels
A doctor may recommend an MRI if you are suspected of having a disease of the heart and blood vessels. The following can be examined through this test.
- Blockage or inflammation in the blood vessels.
- The thickness of the heart’s wall.
- Size & function of the heart chambers.
- The extent of damage caused by heart strokes and attacks.
- Structure of the main artery of the body.
Bones and Joints
MRI can help in the examination and evaluation of the following diseases.
- Bone infections
- Tumors of the bone
- Tumors of the soft tissue
- Joint abnormalities (due to accidents/injuries)
- Disk problems in the spine
Breast MRI can be used along with mammography to examine abnormalities in the breast and detect cancer. The following are some of the symptoms for which your doctor may recommend this test.
- A lump in the breast
- A lump in the armpit
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Inverted nipples
- Nipple discharge
- A change in breast color and texture
- Occurence of breast cancer symptoms suddenly
Other Internal Organs
Injuries and tumors in the following parts of the body can be viewed and examined through an MRI.
- Bile ducts
How it’s done
An MRI is a painless test that is performed by a qualified radiologist. Here’s how the procedure goes.
Before the procedure
Make your medical team aware of the following.
- Medications you administer (prescription and non-prescription drugs, herbs, and supplements).
- Drug allergies, if any.
- Your chance of becoming pregnant.
- Metal implants in your body, if any.
Before the procedure, you will be asked to prepare in the following manner.
- Do not eat for two or more hours before the procedure.
- Wear loose-fitting clothes. Make sure to not wear clothes that have metal buttons or zippers.
- Your doctor will ask you to remove belts, glasses, and earrings. Plus, removing the jewelry will be a must.
- If your clothes are not compatible with the procedure, you may be asked to wear a hospital gown.
Tip: Ask your radiologist if you can bring headphones and listen to music during the procedure since the loud noises of the MRI machine may irritate you.
During the procedure
Once you are ready for the procedure, you will receive a contrast agent. It is a substance that is used to alter external electromagnetism by increasing the fluid contrast within the body. More significantly, a contrast medium helps in producing clear images. It is given via an intravenous line (into a vein).
- On a movable exam tablet, you will be asked to lie down on your back with your arms straight at the sides.
- There will be a headrest for your comfort where you can place your head firmly.
- Your radiologist will place coils (small devices) around the particular part of your body. These devices help in sending and receiving radio waves for clear images.
- Then, the radiologist will leave the room before the procedure starts. The medical team along with the radiologist will sit in the nearby control room.
- Via an intercom, you will be easily able to talk with your radiologist.
- Once you give a green signal, the exam table will slide into the machine slowly. You will have to lie there still.
- The machine will take a series of images. Each of the series will last for about 15 to 20 minutes. You may require 2 to 7 series as determined by the radiologist.
There will be loud knocking sounds during the procedure that indicate the pictures are being taken. You might also feel little warmth on the part being examined, which is quite normal.
After the procedure
- After getting the images, you will still have to wait for a few minutes till the radiologist approves them and no more pictures are needed.
- Once the procedure ends, you can get back to your routine activities right away. However, if the doctor gives you a sedative (a drug that induces sleep) during the procedure, ask somebody to drive you home.
The results are calculated by the radiologist. The moving and still images of the inside of the body are examined on the monitor whereby the radiologist looks for the following abnormalities.
- Bright spots
- Irregular heartbeat
- Blood clots
- Injuries or irregularities
- Damage to any tissue
These results are further evaluated using the results of the tests prior to MRI, i.e., X-ray and CT scan. Further, if swelling or tumors are detected after an MRI and the doctor suspects cancer, a biopsy will be recommended to get more precise results.
Note: This article is published for only informative purposes. Do not skip any medical appointment or recommendation because of something you’ve read here.