Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)


Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a diagnostic procedure that uses a combination of a large magnet, radiofrequencies, and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and structures within the body. Unlike X-rays or computed tomography (CT scans), MRI does not use ionizing radiation. Some MRI machines look like narrow tunnels, while others are more spacious or wider. MRI scans can last from 30 minutes to two hours.

The MRI machine is a large, cylindrical (tube-shaped) machine that creates a strong magnetic field around the patient. The magnetic field, along with radio waves, alters the hydrogen atoms' natural alignment in the body. Pulses of radio waves sent from a scanner knock the nuclei in your atoms out of their normal position. As the nuclei realign back into proper position, the nuclei send out radio signals. These signals are received by a computer that analyzes and converts them into a two-dimensional (2D) image of the body structure or organ being examined.

Magnetic resonance (MRI) may be used instead of computed tomography (CT) in situations where organs or soft tissue are being studied, because MRI is better at telling the difference between normal and abnormal soft tissue.

New uses and indications for MRI have contributed to the development of additional magnetic resonance technology. Magnetic resonance angiography (MRA) is a new procedure used to evaluate blood flow through arteries in a noninvasive (the skin is not pierced) manner. MRA can also be used to detect intracranial (within the brain) aneurysms and vascular malformations (abnormalities of blood vessels within the brain, spinal cord, or other parts of the body).

Magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) is another noninvasive procedure used to assess chemical abnormalities in body tissues, such as the brain. MRS may be used to assess disorders such as HIV infection of the brain , stroke , head injury , coma, Alzheimer's disease, tumors, and multiple sclerosis .

Functional magnetic resonance imaging of the brain (fMRI) is used to determine the specific location of the brain where a certain function, such as speech or memory, occurs. The general areas of the brain in which such functions occur are known, but the exact location may vary from person to person. During functional resonance imaging of the brain, you will be asked to perform a specific task, such as recite the Pledge of Allegiance, while the scan is being done. By pinpointing the exact location of the functional center in the brain, doctors can plan surgery or other treatments for a particular disorder of the brain.

Reasons for an MRI of the brain or spine:

MRI may be used to examine the brain and/or spinal cord for injuries or the presence of structural abnormalities or certain other conditions, such as:

  • Tumors
  • Abscesses
  • Congenital abnormalities
  • Aneurysms
  • Venous malformations
  • Hemorrhage, or bleeding into the brain or spinal cord
  • Subdural hematoma
  • Degenerative diseases, multiple sclerosis , hypoxic encephalopathy
  • Hydrocephalus , or fluid in the brain
  • Herniation or degeneration of discs of the spinal cord
  • Help plan surgeries on the spine, such as decompression of a pinched nerve or spinal fusion

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