Defining Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a diagnostic method for generating sectional images of the human body. MRI is a new technology three decades ago but has gone through a lot of developments through the years. In contrast to computed tomography (CT), this is done without using X-rays in a magnet with high field strength. Radio waves are generated and sent through the body that lies in the magnet. These electromagnetic waves lead to the alignment of certain atomic nuclei (hydrogen nuclei) in the magnetic field.

What is a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan?

When the cores return to normal, they send out a signal that is captured and displayed in the form of images. Computer-controlled, different tissues, but also pathological changes such as tumors can be displayed. For a better assessment of certain tissues ( e.g. tumor tissue, inflammatory tissue), a metal-containing contrast medium (usually a gadolinium preparation) is sometimes administered via a superficial vein.

MRI is of particular importance in assessing the brain and spinal cord, as well as joints, soft tissue, liver, and adrenal tumors, and biliary tract diseases.

What preparations are necessary?

The investigation takes place in a very strong magnetic field. Metal parts that get into the magnetic field can lead to injuries and image errors – so-called artifacts.

Note: Pacemakers, implanted defibrillators as well as inner ear implants and similar implants can be damaged by the magnetic field. Therefore, inform your treating doctor about this before the examination!
The following items must be removed before the examination begins:

  • Watch, glasses, jewelry, hairpins and barrettes, piercings, make-up,
  • Purse, loose coins, check cards with magnetic stripes,
  • Metal parts on clothing such as belt buckles, zippers, bras, rivets,
  • removable dentures (prostheses) and
  • Hearing aids, acupuncture needles.

How is the examination performed?

The examination is done lying down. The patient is pushed into a tubular magnet on a mobile couch. The duration depends on the region to be examined and is between 20 and 40 minutes. During the examination, the patient should lie completely still with his eyes closed. Short anesthesia or medication calming may, therefore, be necessary in young children. The circulation is then monitored by means of a pulse oximeter, which is attached to a finger.

Arms and legs must not be crossed, otherwise, skin burns can result from induction loops. The relatively loud knocking noises during the examination are caused by the electromagnetic circuits and are completely normal. In order to make noise pollution tolerable during the examination process, the patient receives earplugs or headphones.

In some cases ( e.g. when it comes to differentiating between tumor and healthy tissue) an infusion pump is used to inject a contrast medium through a superficial arm vein during the examination.

What side effects/complications are there?

Magnetic resonance imaging is a very low-risk and painless examination procedure. Nevertheless, the following complications can occur in individual cases:

The immobility in the narrow magnetic tube can lead to attacks of sudden fear (claustrophobia). In this case, the treating doctor can give you a sedative.

Metallic dyes in (permanent) make-ups or tattoos can cause skin irritation, swelling and a feeling of warmth.
In addition to the general side effects of using contrast media, patients with hemodialysis who are required to undergo Gd-containing contrast media may experience severe connective tissue disease (NSF). Therefore, inform the doctor treating you of any kidney disease requiring hemodialysis before the examination!

Note: In the event of pregnancy, there is a potential risk of harm to the unborn child. For this reason, an MRI scan is only carried out in exceptional cases in the first three months of pregnancy!

Where is magnetic resonance imaging performed?

Magnetic resonance imaging is performed in special institutes or in hospitals with a radiological department. A transfer is required. The examination itself is usually carried out by a radiology technologist. If a contrast medium is required, a venous access is first pierced by a doctor and then the contrast medium is administered. After the images have been created, the radiologist makes a diagnosis.

How are the costs going to be covered?

You need an assignment for an MRI scan. This is usually issued by specialists and is valid for one month from the day of the exhibition. In order to be borne by the health insurance institutions, an approval by a chief medical officer is required within this period.

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