When your doctor says you need an MRI, your first reaction might be, “Exactly what is an MRI?” Learn about MRIs, Open MRIs, and your choices in this article.
What’s an MRI?
MRI stands for magnetic resonance imaging. It’s an imaging technology (like X-rays) that can create pictures of structures inside the human body. MRI images are much more detailed than X-rays, however, and are also three-dimensional. MRIs do not use radiation at all, so unlike X-rays, there is no radiation exposure for the patient.
How Does MRI Work?
The “magnetic” part of the MRI is just that — powerful magnets that can detect the movement of tiny particles called protons in the body fluids. The changes in the protons can show the differences in the body’s tissues, which allows doctors to identify injuries, illnesses, and tumors. The MRI magnets are very powerful, and people who have devices like implanted pacemakers cannot enter an MRI machine. Small amounts of metal inside the body, like dental fillings, aren’t affected by the magnets but may cause a slight distortion of the image in that area.
What’s MRI Used For?
Unlike X-rays, which are best for bone imaging, MRIs are particularly useful for soft tissues. A good MRI can show tiny details of tissues, organs, blood vessels, and even blood flow through the arteries and veins. MRIs are often used to evaluate musculoskeletal injuries, head trauma or strokes, and blood vessel problems.
What’s it Like to Have an MRI?
The classic MRI is basically a large box with a central tunnel. The patient is placed on a sliding table that moves in and out of the tunnel while the MRI is performed. An MRI study may take an hour or more. Although you can listen to music, there is very little else you can do during the study, as you must remain as still as possible. Your head, chest, and arms are also restrained to help prevent movement. One of the challenges of MRIs is that people who are uncomfortable in confined spaces sometimes find it difficult to remain inside the machine.
What’s Different About an Open MRI?
An open MRI has magnets above and below the patient but is open on the sides. Open MRIs are a good choice for people who have claustrophobia or those who are too tall or heavy for a classic MRI. RAF offers a “True Open MRI,” which is unique because it is completely open on all four sides. Children often do better in an open MRI, as they can see and talk to parents or the technician. In some cases, open MRIs don’t provide quite the same level of imaging quality as closed MRIs, and some imaging procedures can’t be performed with an open MRI. If you need an MRI but are concerned about claustrophobia or other issues, talk it over with your doctor. If an open MRI is appropriate, that may be a good choice. Sedatives may also help you relax for the procedure.
In addition to the differences in design, MRIs also have other differences. The 1.5 T MRI (T stands for Tesla) is the standard in most areas of health care. Although these machines don’t take the five hours of scanning time MRIs needed when they were first invented, they may still take several hours. A 3T MRI, which is much more powerful, can be faster. Both types of MRIs produce excellent images, but the 3T is more expensive to buy, so it’s less common. RAF offers traditional, True Open and 3T MRI machines in its Medical Imaging of Fredericksburg locations.