Magnetic Resonance Imaging
(MRI Scan)

Medical Reviewer:

MRI scan facts

  • MRI scanning uses magnetism, radio waves, and a computer to produce images of body structures.
  • MRI scanning is painless and does not involve x-ray radiation.
  • Patients with heart pacemakers, metal implants, or metal chips or clips in or around the eyes cannot be scanned with MRI because of the effect of the magnet.
  • Claustrophobic sensation can occur with MRI scanning.

What is an MRI scan?

An MRI (or magnetic resonance imaging) scan is a radiology technique that uses magnetism, radio waves, and a computer to produce images of body structures. The MRI scanner is a tube surrounded by a giant circular magnet. The patient is placed on a moveable bed that is inserted into the magnet. The magnet creates a strong magnetic field that aligns the protons of hydrogen atoms, which are then exposed to a beam of radio waves. This spins the various protons of the body, and they produce a faint signal that is detected by the receiver portion of the MRI scanner. The receiver information is processed by a computer, and an image is produced.

The image and resolution produced by MRI is quite detailed and can detect tiny changes of structures within the body. For some procedures, contrast agents, such as gadolinium, are used to increase the accuracy of the images.

When are MRI scans used?

An MRI scan can be used as an extremely accurate method of disease detection throughout the body and is most often used after the other testing fails to provide sufficient information to confirm a patient's diagnosis. In the head, trauma to the brain can be seen as bleeding or swelling. Other abnormalities often found include brain aneurysms, stroke, tumors of the brain, as well as tumors or inflammation of the spine.

Neurosurgeons use an MRI scan not only in defining brain anatomy but in evaluating the integrity of the spinal cord after trauma. It is also used when considering problems associated with the vertebrae or intervertebral discs of the spine. An MRI scan can evaluate the structure of the heart and aorta, where it can detect aneurysms or tears. MRI scans are not the first line of imaging test for these issues or in cases of trauma.

It provides valuable information on glands and organs within the abdomen, and accurate information about the structure of the joints, soft tissues, and bones of the body. Often, surgery can be deferred or more accurately directed after knowing the results of an MRI scan.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/31/2014

Patient Comments

Viewers share their comments

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI Scan) - Diagnosis Question: Please describe how magnetic resonance imaging (MRI scan) has helped in your diagnosis.
MRI scan is a diagnostic tool that aids in diagnosis of diseases and conditions such as fractures, stroke, brain tumors, spinal injuries, and soft tissue injuries.

Tiger Woods: Stress Fracture and Torn ACL

Medical Author: Benjamin Wedro, MD, FAAEM
Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

June 2008 - In the last few months, Tiger Woods has won nine out of the 12 golf tournaments he has entered. So who cares? Whenever he tees it up, it's Tiger against the field, and Tiger always wins. But Tiger has met his match. While his mind was willing, his body has suffered a breakdown.

The medical story goes like this. In the midst of his latest winning streak, Tiger ruined his left knee, tearing the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and damaging the cartilage. Most people can't easily walk with this injury; Tiger played on. In mid-April he underwent arthroscopyto trim the damaged cartilage and began golf practice almost immediately. Without his surgeon's blessing, he played and won the USGA Open 2008. Only afterwards was it revealed that he had sustained a stress fracture in his tibia. The pain on his face could now be understood. It is time to pay the piper. Tiger is done for the year, with knee reconstruction surgery and months of rehab in his future.


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