Magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, uses a strong magnet and radio waves to provide clear and detailed diagnostic images of internal body organs and tissues. MRI is a valuable tool for the diagnosis of a broad range of conditions, including:
- stroke and other neurologic disorders
- disorders of the spine
- vascular disease
- joint and musculoskeletal disorders
MRI allows evaluation of some body structures that may not be as visible with other diagnostic imaging methods.
What are some common uses of MRI?
Imaging of the Brain: MRI is the most sensitive imaging test of the head (particularly of the brain) in routine clinical practice. MRI of the head is performed to help diagnose:
- tumors of the brain
- developmental anomalies of the brain
- vascular anomalies of the head (aneurysm, for example)
- disorders of the eyes and the inner ear
- disease in the pituitary gland
- certain chronic disorders of the nervous system, such as multiple sclerosis
- causes of headache.
Imaging of the Musculoskeletal System: MRI is often used to study the knee, ankle, foot, shoulder, elbow, wrist, and hand. MRI is also a highly accurate method for evaluation of soft tissue structures such as tendons and ligaments, which are seen in great detail. Even subtle injuries can be detected. In addition, MRI is used for the diagnosis of spinal problems including disc herniation, spinal stenosis, and spinal tumors.
Sports Medicine Imaging: Patients of orthopedic and sports medicine physicians have special needs when it comes to diagnostic imaging. They require the most advanced digital imaging tests not only for an accurate diagnosis, but also to assist in surgical planning. The radiologists of Santa Fe Imaging have undergone extensive subspecialty training in musculoskeletal imaging as well as interventional radiology procedures for diagnosis and management. Our advanced high field MRI produces exceptionally detailed images of bony structures in less time and with less discomfort than older generations of equipment. And our extensive experience with sports injury imaging has made us a leading choice for athletes and schools throughout Northern New Mexico.
Imaging for Cancer & Functional Disorders: Organs of the chest and abdomen such as the liver, lungs, kidney, and other abdominal organs can be examined in great detail with MRI. This aids in the diagnosis and evaluation of tumors and functional disorders. In the early diagnosis of breast cancer, MRI is an alternative to traditional x-ray mammography. Furthermore because there is no radiation exposure is involved, MRI is often used for examination of the male and female reproductive systems, including prostate MRI.
How should I prepare for an MRI?
Before your MRI exam, remove all accessories including hair pins, jewelry, eyeglasses, hearing aids, wigs, dentures, acupuncture needles, and medication patches. During the exam, these metal objects may interfere with the magnetic field, affecting the quality of the MRI images taken.
- Having a heart pacemaker, for example is generally a contraindication for undergoing an MRI.
- If you have a neurostimulator or pump, contact your physician to shut down the device before your MRI, and have the physician reset it after the exam.
- FOR ANY DEVICE INSIDE YOUR BODY, BRING A CARD THAT IDENTIFIES THE EXACT MODEL OF THE DEVICE, AND DESCRIBES WHAT IT IS MADE OF so that the Technologist can consult on the safety of your having the MRI.
Notify your technologist if you have:
- any prosthetic joints – hip, knee, etc.
- a heart pacemaker (or artificial heart valve), defibrillator or artificial heart value
- an intrauterine device (IUD)
- any metal plates, pins, screws, or surgical staples in your body
- tattoos and permanent make-up
- a bullet or shrapnel in your body, or ever worked with metal
- if you might be pregnant or suspect you may be pregnant
- if you are claustrophobic. Some patients who undergo MRI in an enclosed unit may feel confined. If you are not easily reassured, your primary care physician may administer a sedative before you come to SFI for your MRI.
What should I expect during this exam?
- Depending on how many images are needed, the exam generally takes 15 to 45 minutes. However, very detailed studies may take longer.
- You must lie down on a sliding table and be comfortably positioned.
- Even though the technologist must leave the room, you will be able to communicate with them at any time using an intercom.
- If necessary, a friend or family member may be able to stay in the room with you during the exam.
- You will be asked remain still during the actual imaging process.
- Depending on the part of the body being examined, a contrast material may be used to enhance the visibility of certain tissues or blood vessels. A small catheter is placed in your arm or hand vein and a solution IV drip runs through the line. About two-thirds of the way through the exam, the contrast material is injected.
What will I experience during an MRI?
MRI is painless.
- You will hear loud tapping or thumping during the exam. Earplugs or earphones may be provided to you by the MRI center.
- You may feel warmth in the area being examined. This is normal.
- If a contrast injection is needed, there may be some discomfort at the injection site. You may also feel a cool sensation at the site during the injection.
- Some claustrophobic patients may experience a “closed in” feeling. If this is a concern, your physician might prescribe a sedative to take before your exam. Also, newer open MRI machines have helped to alleviate this reaction.
- You may bring your favorite music on a CD or iPod if you would like to listen to it during the exam.
Watch a descriptive video of an MRI exam:
This video from Siemens, the manufacturer of the MRI equipment used at Santa Fe Imaging explains what happens in an MRI exam, how the equipment works, and what you can expect.