Magnetic Resonance Imaging


Blog written by staff intern, Reagan W. of the Personal Injury Law Office of Roger P. Foley, P.A.

What Exactly is an MRI and How Does it Work? 

MRI, also known as “Magnetic Resonance Imaging” uses a magnetic field and radio waves to non-invasively create detailed images of the inner workings of the body. The MRI was originally created in the 1970s to detect the differences between cancer cells and normal cells. It is now an often used tool in modern medicine. Fun fact, did you know that dogs are not qualified to perform MRI… but catscan?

The MRI is conducted inside an MRI machine. This is a cylinder shaped device with a space in the middle, almost like a donut, but bigger and not edible. This machine creates the magnetic field by using superconducting magnets. A patient lies on a table which is then used to slide them in and outside of the machine. Prior to the scan, the patient is sometimes administered a contrasting agent that temporarily dyes the tissue in order to improve the visibility of the body. This agent is either ingested by mouth or inserted into a vein to travel through the body. While this may sound gross or scary, a couple seconds of discomfort could help properly diagnose an injury or illness. 

The radio waves exposed to the patient during the scan cause the nuclei of atoms to send out a signal, which is then picked up by detectors in the machines that create images. Pretty cool right? Signals differ from body part to body part, which makes for an accurate image that separates various bones, organs, and blood vessels. 

Unlike its counterparts, x-ray and CT scan, MRI scans do not use ionizing radiation, which can be harmful to the body. Rather, they use non-ionizing radio waves, which are known to be much safer. 

What is MRI Used For?

When imaging of soft tissue, such as the brain, spinal cord, and muscles are required, MRI is the most helpful. Additionally, MRI can be used to detect a range of conditions and diseases including tumors, brain and spinal cord irregularities/injury, multiple sclerosis, and heart/lung issues or disease. MRI scans are also useful in tracking conditions and diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer’s. Who knew sitting in a magnet for an hour could offer so many benefits? 

MRI scans come in three variants. The first, conventional MRI, produces a detailed image of the body’s internal structure. Secondly, the functional MRI (fMRI) uses blood flow measurements to map brain activity, but don’t worry, they can’t read your thoughts… I don’t think. Lastly, magnetic resonance angiography (MRA) creates a detailed image of the inner blood vessels. 

MRI vs. Other Medical Imaging Procedures

MRI is unique from other forms of medical imaging in seven ways:

  1. Technology

MRI uses a magnetic field and radio waves to create an image of the internal structures of the body, while CT scans and X-rays use other forms of energy to capture the picture. 

  1. Tissue Visualization

MRI is beneficial in generating images of soft tissues such as the brain, spinal cord, and muscles and tendons. CT scans and X-rays are most often used in photographing bones and hard tissue. 

  1. Radiation

MRI is among one of the safest forms of medical imaging, as it does not use ionizing radiation like CT scans or X-rays which could possibly be harmful to the body. 

  1. Contrast Agents

The usage of a contrast agent (dye) is popular when undergoing an MRI. This agent helps to distinguish the tissues of the body. While other forms of imaging use contrast agents, it is most common in MRI. Both contracting and non-contrasting MRI are commonplace in the medical field. 

  1. Resolution and Detail

MRI is particularly useful when capturing images of smaller internal structures such as nerves, ligaments, and tendons as it is known for its remarkable resolution that CT scans and X-rays do not have. 

  1. Time and Cost

Unlike X-rays or CT scans, MRI takes a long time to undergo. Unfortunately, MRI is also known to be more expensive than other forms of imaging. 

  1. Safety

MRI is considered safe because it does not use ionizing radiation, however, it can be dangerous for those with metallic implants inside the body. 

Important Things to Know About Your MRI 

While MRI is an important tool in order to diagnose diseases and conditions, it can be pricey and lengthy to perform. Those with sensitivities to loud noises or restricting spaces may also have trouble, as the machine is often loud and small. With these faults in mind, it is also shown that the benefits of MRI outweigh the consequences, and it could be used to potentially save your life. 

Prior to undergoing an MRI, it is important to not have any metal objects on your clothing or body including: jewelry, zippers, buttons, underwire bras, or watches. All piercings must be removed from the body before entering the machine to prevent interference with the magnetic field of the MRI machine and serious bodily injury. As arbitrary as it sounds, small metal objects such as earrings are attracted to the powerful magnets and could be pulled from your ear. Metal objects also include pacemakers, cochlear implants, or aneurysm clips. Be sure you tell your doctor if you have any metal on your body, although most metal implants connected to bone should not be affected by the MRI scan. 

Alcohol and caffeine should be avoided for at least 24 hours prior to the scan to be sure of accurate imaging, sorry coffee addicts! Perfume, body lotion, and makeup  should not be worn when entering the machine to prevent trace amounts of metal. If you are pregnant, you must inform the doctor as certain precautions will need to be taken, although it is generally considered safe for pregnant people to undergo an MRI. The doctor will inform you of any other precautions that need to be taken. 

Cell phones, laptops, or any other unnecessary electronics or items should not be brought into the MRI room, as they can affect the magnets of the machine. Following these guidelines ensures the safety and accuracy of the scan. 

How to Cope With MRI Anxiety

MRI tests can be intimidating to undergo. Patients are in a small white tube for extended periods of time. Many patients feel anxious or claustrophobic during the procedure, but it is important to remember that the machine is not harmful or painful, and could potentially save your life with the right diagnosis. 

If you were just prescribed an MRI test, knowing what to expect could greatly reduce nerves. Watching videos, talking to friends, doing research, or talking to your doctor helps you be educated on what your experience may be like. 

Since the procedure takes time, it is recommended that falling asleep may be the best way to pass time. Wearing a sleeping mask not only forces your eyes closed, but also shields you from the environment that is potentially causing stress. If you cannot sleep, focusing on breathing, meditation, or prayer could also distract your mind. 

Oftentimes within the MRI machine, a choice of music will be given in order to help calm anxiety. My choice? Some M-R-I-AH CAREY! Nothing like a little “All I Want for Christmas is You” to calm the nerves. If you prefer silence, ear plugs may be provided. 

How Can MRI Be Used in Personal Injury Law?

 MRI scans show the presence of injuries, the severity, and the progression of them during treatment. With the concrete evidence the scans provide, they can also easily be used to refute an argument, as one’s injuries may not have been as severe as they claimed. On the flip side, the MRI scans can show without a doubt the injuries sustained by a person and can help them win their case. 

While MRI scans are useful in personal injury cases, other tests such as x-rays or  CT scans can be sufficient enough to diagnose a patient with an injury or condition and prove a claim.

A personal injury lawyer uses testimony of doctors to make their case and demonstrate the severity of an injury. The doctors and other medical professionals rely on objective tests like an MRI to confirm their diagnosis. Without these objective tests, “without a doubt” would not be able to be proven. 




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