A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) exam gives your physician a three dimensional view into your body. Radiation is not involved. Instead, MRI images are produced using radiofrequency waves and powerful magnets.
If you have a spine, brain or muscle issue, your physician may request an MRI exam. An MRI is especially helpful in the diagnosis of issues in the brain, spine, muscles, bones, joints, tendons and connective tissue that help move your body parts and organs.
You will need a written referral from your doctor for an MRI exam. When you arrive at Radiology & Imaging you will fill out a questionnaire so we can be certain you are a good candidate for an MRI. Radiology & Imaging offers MRI service through a joint venture with Shields and Baystate, located at 80 Wason Avenue in Springfield.
How MRI Works
Unlike conventional x-ray examinations and computed tomography (CT) scans, MRI does not depend on ionizing radiation. Instead, the MRI machine uses radio waves in a strong magnetic field.
For most MRIs, the machine passes an electric current through wire coils. Other coils, placed in the machine and sometimes placed around the part of the body being imaged, send and receive radio waves, producing signals that the coils detected. A computer then processes the signals and generates a series of images. Each image shows a thin slice of the body. The images can then be studied from different angles by your physician and the Radiology & Imaging radiologist physician.
In most cases, the difference between abnormal (diseased) tissue and healthy tissue is clearer with MRI than with an x-ray, CT or ultrasound.
Why Physicians Use MRI
Your physician may use an MRI of your body to evaluate organs in your chest and abdomen. The physician might also use an MRI of the body to check the health of organs in your pelvic area, blood vessels and breasts.
The MRI exam can help diagnose and monitor treatment of tumors, some heart problems, liver diseases, causes of pelvic pain in women and many other health issues. Other types of MRI focus on other health issues and different parts of the body. Many MRIs focus on other body areas including:
- Major blood vessels
Preparing For Your MRI Exam
Preparation depends upon the area of your body the MRI will exam. Always check with your physician or Radiology & Imaging to make sure you prepare properly. Here are some general guidelines for most MRIs:
- You may be asked to wear a gown
- Some MRIs require that you not eat or drink for 8-12 hours before the exam
- You may have to swallow contrast material or receive an injection of contrast into your bloodstream
- Please leave any jewelry, watches and other metal accessories at home
- Please do not wear pins, hairpins, metal zippers or other metal items
- Before the exam, please take off any removable dental work, body piercings, eyeglasses and all other metal objects
Before your exam, please let Radiology & Imaging know if you have:
- Allergies of any kind
- Any serious health problems
- Recent surgery
- Any possibility of being pregnant
- Claustrophobia (fear of enclosed spaces)
- Any medical or electronic devices in your body
- Metal objects used in orthopedic surgery (like an artificial joint)
It is important to tell the technologist about any medical or electronic devices in your body. Those devices may interfere with your exam or they could pose a risk. Here is a partial list of common medical and electronic devices you may have:
- Artificial heart valves
- Implanted drug infusion ports
- Implanted electronic device, including a cardiac pacemaker
- Artificial limbs or metallic joint prostheses
- Implanted nerve stimulators
- Metal pins, screws, plates, stents or surgical staples
In general, metal objects used in orthopedic surgery pose no risk during MRI. However, a recently placed artificial joint may require the use of another imaging procedure. When you and your physician are not certain about what the metal objects that might be inside you, the best course is often an x-ray to identify the objects with certainty.
Dyes used in tattoos may contain iron and could heat up during MRI, but this is rarely a problem. Tooth fillings and braces usually are not affected by the magnetic field but they may distort images of the facial area or brain, so please make Radiology & Imaging aware of them.
What an MRI Exam Is Like
Most MRIs are painless, easy and quick. Exams tend to take from 15 to 45 minutes depending on the equipment and type of exam you have.
The Radiology & Imaging technologist will position you on a moveable examination table. He or she may use straps and bolsters to help you stay still and maintain the correct position during the exam. Small devices capable of sending and receiving radio waves may be placed around or adjacent to the area of your body being studied.
If your exam requires you to take a contrast material, your technologist will insert an intravenous (IV) line into a vein in your hand or arm. You will be moved into the magnet of the MRI unit. The radiologist and technologist will leave the room while the MRI exam is performed.
When your exam is done, the technologist may ask you to wait until he or the radiologist can review the images and make certain they are good.
An MRI exam has no effect on the remainder of your day. You can resume your normal daily activities immediately after the exam.
Benefits & Risks
Physicians find MRIs valuable in diagnosing and evaluating many medical issues. It is a painless exam, noninvasive and does not expose you to any radiation.
MRIs of the soft-tissue structures–like the heart, liver and other organs–are more likely to identify and characterize abnormalities than other imaging methods. This makes MRI an invaluable tool in early diagnosis and evaluation of many infections, tumors, and injuries. Cancer, heart disease and other conditions can often be caught early and diagnosed properly via an MRI.
MRIs provide a fast, noninvasive alternative to x-ray angiography for diagnosing problems of the heart and blood vessels.
When you follow appropriate safety guidelines, an MRI poses almost no risk. Although the MRI’s strong magnetic field is not harmful in itself, implanted medical devices that contain metal may malfunction or cause problems during an MRI exam. Other risks to the average person, like allergic reaction to the contrast material or nephrogenic systemic fibrosis are minimal and rare.
Limits of MRI
To produce quality results, an MRI requires that you remain perfectly still and sometimes hold your breath while the images are being recorded. People who are anxious, confused or in severe pain, may find it difficult to lie still during imaging. A large person may not fit into the conventional MRI machine. The presence of an implant or other metallic object sometimes makes it difficult to obtain clear images. Although there is no reason to believe that magnetic resonance imaging harms the fetus, pregnant women usually are advised not to have an MRI exam unless medically necessary. MRIs do not always distinguish between cancer tissue and edema fluid. And MRIs typically cost more and take more time to perform than other imaging exams.
We Subspecialize In MRIs Of All Types
Radiology & Imaging’s subspecialized staff includes several radiology physicians who are specifically trained in one or more types of MRIs–brain, spine, body, muscular or other. Their extensive experience in particular types of MRI makes them well equipped to interpret the exam results and consult most effectively with your personal physician.
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