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Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a
test that uses a magnetic field and pulses of radio wave energy to make
pictures of organs and structures inside the body. In many cases, MRI gives
different information about structures in the body than can be seen with an
computed tomography (CT) scan. MRI also may show
problems that cannot be seen with other imaging methods.
MRI test, the area of the body being studied is placed inside a special machine
that contains a strong magnet. Pictures from an MRI scan are digital images
that can be saved and stored on a computer for more study. The images also can
be reviewed remotely, such as in a clinic or an operating room. In some cases,
contrast material may be used during the MRI scan to
show certain structures more clearly.
You may be able to have an MRI with an open machine that doesn't enclose your entire body. But open MRI machines aren't available everywhere. The pictures from an open MRI may not be as good as those from a standard MRI machine.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is
done for many reasons. It is used to find problems such as tumors, bleeding,
injury, blood vessel diseases, or infection. MRI also may be done to provide
more information about a problem seen on an X-ray, ultrasound scan, or CT scan.
Contrast material may be used during MRI to show abnormal tissue more clearly.
An MRI scan can be done for the:
Before your MRI test, tell your doctor
and the MRI technologist if you:
You may need to arrange for someone to
drive you home after the test, if you are given a medicine (sedative) to help you relax.
For an MRI
of the abdomen or pelvis, you may be asked to not eat or drink for several
hours before the test.
You may need to sign a consent form that says you understand the risks of the test and agree to have it done.
Talk to your
doctor about any concerns you have regarding the need for the test, its risks,
how it will be done, or what the results will mean. To help you understand the
importance of this test, fill out the
medical test information formmedical test information form(What is a PDF document?).
A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
test is usually done by an MRI technologist. The pictures are usually
interpreted by a
radiologist. But some other types of doctors can also
interpret an MRI scan.
You will need to remove all metal objects
(such as hearing aids, dentures, jewelry, watches, and hairpins) from your body
because these objects may be attracted to the powerful magnet used for the
You will need to take off all or most of your clothes,
depending on which area is examined (you may be allowed to keep on your
underwear if it is not in the way). You will be given a gown to use during the
test. If you are allowed to keep some of your clothes on, you should empty your
pockets of any coins and cards (such as credit cards or ATM cards) with scanner
strips on them because the MRI magnet may erase the information on the
During the test, you usually lie on your back on a table that
is part of the MRI scanner. Your head, chest, and arms may be held with straps
to help you remain still. The table will slide into the space that contains the
magnet. A device called a coil may be placed over or wrapped around the area to
be scanned. A special belt strap may be used to sense your breathing or
heartbeat. This triggers the machine to take the scan at the right time.
Some people feel nervous (claustrophobic) inside the MRI magnet. If this
keeps you from lying still, you can be given a medicine (sedative) to help you
relax. Some MRI machines (called open MRI) are now made so that the magnet does
not enclose your entire body. Open MRI machines may be helpful if you are
claustrophobic, but they are not available everywhere. The pictures from an
open MRI may not be as good as those from a standard MRI machine.
Inside the scanner you will hear a fan and feel
air moving. You may also hear tapping or snapping noises as the MRI scans are
taken. You may be given earplugs or headphones with music to reduce the noise.
It is very important to hold completely still while the scan is being done. You
may be asked to hold your breath for short periods of time.
the test, you may be alone in the scanner room. But the technologist will watch
you through a window. You will be able to talk with the technologist through a
If contrast material is needed, the technologist
will put it in an
intravenous (IV) line in your arm. The material may be
given over 1 to 2 minutes. Then more MRI scans are done.
test usually takes 30 to 60 minutes but can take as long as 2 hours.
You will not have pain from the magnetic
field or radio waves used for the MRI test. The table you lie on may feel hard,
and the room may be cool. You may be tired or sore from lying in one position
for a long time.
If a contrast material is used, you may feel some
coolness and flushing as it is put into your IV.
In rare cases,
you may feel:
There are no known harmful effects from the
strong magnetic field used for MRI. But the magnet is very powerful. The magnet
may affect pacemakers, artificial limbs, and other medical devices that contain
iron. The magnet will stop a watch that is close to the magnet. Any loose metal
object has the risk of causing damage or injury if it gets pulled toward the
Metal parts in the eyes can damage the
retina. If you may have metal fragments in the eye, an
X-ray of the eyes may be done before the MRI. If metal is found, the MRI will
not be done.
Iron pigments in tattoos or tattooed eyeliner can
cause skin or eye irritation.
An MRI can cause a burn with some
medicine patches. Be sure to tell your health professional if you are wearing
There is a slight risk of an
allergic reaction if contrast material is used during
the MRI. But most reactions are mild and can be treated using medicine. There
also is a slight risk of an infection at the IV site.
magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a test that uses a
magnetic field and pulses of radio wave energy to make pictures of organs and
structures inside the body.
radiologist may discuss initial results of the MRI
with you right after the test. Complete results are usually ready for your
doctor in 1 to 2 days.
An MRI can sometimes find a problem in a
tissue or organ even when the size and shape of the tissue or organ looks
The organs, blood vessels, bones, and
joints are normal in size, shape, appearance, and location.
No abnormal growths, such as tumors, are
No bleeding, abnormal fluid, blockage in
the flow of blood, or bulges in the blood vessels (aneurysms) are
No signs of inflammation or infection are
An organ is too large, too small, damaged,
Abnormal growths (such as tumors) are
Abnormal fluid from a cause such as
bleeding or an infection is present. Fluid is found around the lungs or heart.
Fluid is found around the liver, bowel, or other organ in the
A blood vessel is narrowed or blocked. An
aneurysm is present.
Blockage in the gallbladder
bile ducts or in the tubes (ureters) that
lead out of the kidneys is present.
cartilage is seen. Bones are broken or show infection
Problems of the nervous system are present,
multiple sclerosis (MS),
Alzheimer's disease, or
Reasons you may not be able to
have the test or why the results may not be helpful include:
Many modern medical devices that do not use
electronics—such as heart valves, stents, or clips—can be safely placed in most
MRI machines. But some newer MRI machines have stronger magnets. The safety of
MRI scans with these stronger MRI magnets in people with medical devices is not
MRI can be used to check different parts
of the body, such as the head, belly, breast, spine, shoulder, and knee.
Other Works Consulted
Chernecky CC, Berger BJ (2013). Laboratory Tests and Diagnostic Procedures, 6th ed. St. Louis: Saunders.
Fischbach FT, Dunning MB III, eds. (2009).
Manual of Laboratory and Diagnostic Tests, 8th ed.
Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
May 24, 2013
William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & Howard Schaff, MD - Diagnostic Radiology
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