Magnetic resonance imaging of the brain with no visible abnormalities. MRI in different views

Several medical developments have been developed over the years to help in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases. Before, diagnosing diseases were limited because it’s hard to have a clear image of the human body’s internal anatomy. Techniques such as X-ray scans were developed, but getting a clear image wasn’t always guaranteed. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) was then developed to help bridge this gap in scanning.

MRI is an imaging technology used in medical fields to produce detailed three-dimensional images of the human body’s internal structure. The technique is used to scan non-bony tissues such as ligaments and tendons, which are difficult to see just by using X-Rays or other scanners. Over the years, MRI scanners have also evolved, and can now even be used to screen for cancer. You can be redirected here if you want to learn more about MRI scanners used in cancer screening.

The Physics Behind MRI

MRIs are literally made of magnets, as the name suggests. The machine uses radio waves and magnetic fields that work together to create clear images using the amount and location of water in the tissues it scans. This works because the human body is 65% water. Moreover, the hydrogen atoms in water contain protons or positively charged particles that work like magnets. These magnets align with the magnetic field used in MRI scans and vary in energy depending on which tissue they’re located, which is what helps create a distinct image.

To get a scan, a patient is placed in a still position under the MRI machine, which is like a big magnetic tube. The stillness is used to increase the contrast in the image as any movements will blur it. Contrasting agents may also be given to the patient to increase proton realignment speed and get a clearer image.

This imaging is done when diagnosing for tumors, stroke, brain injuries, and internal bleeding. It’s also used in sports to determine injuries such as muscle tear, ligament tear, and fractured bones. During the treatment, the scan can also be used to monitor progress by comparing tumor sizes.

Types Of MRI 

There are different forms of MRI used in modern medical institutions. The difference largely depends on the body part being scanned and the molecular composition of the tissues.

The types include the following:

  • Functional MRI: This form is used on the brain to determine its functional activities by looking for any abnormalities in the blood flow to the brain. It helps to study brain structure, such as determining which part of the brain handles a particular function, and is also capable of scanning for injuries. Doctors can also create a map of a patient’s brain before surgery using this kind of MRI.
  • Magnetic Resonance Venography: This type of MRI is used to study blood vessels, which is helpful in detecting cardiovascular diseases. It’s combined with contrast agents to highlight the veins and get clearer images. This is important when looking for internal bleeding.
  • Cardiac MRI: This is done when studying the heart and the blood vessels around it. Doctors conduct a cardiac MRI to study the heart’s activity functions before a treatment plan is devised. It’s also used to diagnose other heart conditions.
  • Breast MRI: A needle-guided MRI biopsy can be conducted on patients who are at risk of developing breast cancer or to monitor those undergoing treatments like proton therapy. This will help doctors monitor the location and progress of the tumor.
  • Diffusion MRI: This is used to measure the diffusion rate of water or the movement of its molecules in different body parts. Any anomaly in the diffusion rate might be an indication of tumor or stroke.

MRI Safety Precautions 

Smiling female doctor looking at patient undergoing CT scan in hospital

Even though MRIs appear to be a more convenient and safer way of imaging the internal organs, safety measures should be taken before and during the scan. These measures will also help to enhance the quality of the scan and help in proper diagnosis.

If you need an MRI, remember the following precautions:

  • Avoid Non-Compatible Metal Accessories

MRI scanners use strong magnetic fields to image organs. However, these procedures could be impacted by metal implants and other accessories in the body. This is why a full body examination is recommended before the scan.

If a patient has non-compatible metal implants such as those used in ear implants, pacemakers, and blood vessel stents, the strong magnetic pull may cause internal injuries or dislocate the implant. The radio wave frequency will also heat up the metal. However, MRI-friendly metals such as titanium, stainless steel, and cobalt-chromium are safe.

  • Use Proper Ear Protection 

During the scan, the changing magnetic field may cause loud clicking and knocking sounds. This noise can be irritating and uncomfortable to some patients and cause them to move, which will affect the image’s quality. For patients with hearing problems, the noise could cause further damage to their ears.

Before going for a scan, it’s therefore advisable that you use proper ear protection. You could stuff cotton buds inside your ear as it’s comfortable and will absorb any noise around it. It’s also non-metallic and won’t affect the contrast of the image.

  • Assess For Potential Allergic Reactions To Contrast Agents

Some patients may be allergic to the dying agents used to increase the contrast in scanned images. If a patient has a history of allergies, a proper examination should be done before any dyes are used. This is just one of the reasons why it’s ideal to consult with a doctor first to find out if you

  • Check For Risks Of Claustrophobia 

Claustrophobia is the fear of confined places such as elevators. MRI scanners are closed tubes, which may trigger someone with claustrophobia. Some patients may experience these fears when placed in tubes and required to stay still. The irrational fear might cause them to get extreme anxiety or panic attacks.

Even if the patient doesn’t suffer from anxiety attacks, they might make movements to try to escape the confined area, which will impact the image’s quality.

Final Thoughts

MRIs are a safer and more efficient way to get a medical scan. Unlike other scans, MRI uses a magnetic field instead of radiation, which minimizes the risks of exposing the body to harmful radiation.

However, just like any other medical procedure, the scan should be done by professionals only. Proper medical consultation and examination are also important before patients go through any type of MRI scanning to ensure safety.