Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is an imaging technique employed in the field of medicine. It uses a large, tube-shaped magnet, the magnetic field from which realigns the water molecules in your body. Computers generate radio waves that cause the realigned atoms to produce faint signals. These signals are then interpreted by computers to reveal images of your internal organs.
An MRI is a very important diagnostic tool as it is a non-invasive procedure that allows a doctor to see your internal organs. The high-resolution images allow the doctor to determine what is wrong and determine the best course of action. It can be used to obtain images of the brain, spinal cord, heart, kidneys, and all other important organs. Doctors can use these pictures to assess the size and function of the organs and the extent of damage after a health problem. They can also see any unwanted growths or abnormalities and intervene to prevent further damage.
However, since an MRI machine is such a powerful tool, it comes with a set of risks that everyone should know. Here are a few things to remember when getting an MRI to ensure your safety and those around you.
Keep in mind that the magnet is always on
If you’re even a little bit familiar with magnets, you probably know that magnets always attract metals. The same is the case with an MRI machine, where the magnet is quite large and powerful. It is always on, every hour of every day, and will pull any magnetic and ferromagnetic material towards itself. That is why in an MRI environment, only Non-Magnetic and Non-Ferromagnetic MRI Equipment are used. The chairs, stretchers, wheelchairs, and everything else in an MRI environment are made specifically for this use, with materials that will not be affected by the magnet.
Leave your personal belongings behind
It is really important to leave all your personal belongings behind when getting an MRI. This is because when a ferromagnetic item is brought into the MRI environment, it becomes a projectile and flies towards the magnet with tremendous force. This can cause serious injury to anyone in the projectile’s path. Examples of such prohibited items are purses, money clips, coins, watches, cell phones, hair pins, etc. Moreover, MRI machines generate a lot of heat. Metals absorb heat much faster, so metallic objects close to the skin, like jewelry and money clips, may lead to burns.
Additionally, medication and EKG patches may also cause burns. This is why getting an MRI requires a full change of attire for the patient and any attendant accompanying them. Sometimes, a hand-magnet is used to test items to see if they can be taken inside the MRI environment. However, if there is any doubt regarding an item, it is better to leave it behind.
Be aware of the important signs
The entrance to any MRI suite is decked with warning signs. These are put in place to inform you that you are about to enter an area that requires you to take special precautions. This is why you should get yourself screened beforehand and never enter an MRI environment unattended. Moreover, patient-care equipment and tools specially designed for use in an MRI environment are also clearly labeled as MRI safe. Do not take any item into the MRI environment without checking for these labels. If you don’t find any, assume that the equipment is unsafe to bring inside to avoid accidents.
Technicians should be made aware of any implants
All patients requiring an MRI and their attendants must undergo a screening process before entering the MRI environment. MRI technicians will ask you about medical implants and enter the information you provide into the radiology assessment. This is because medical and dental implants usually contain magnetic and ferromagnetic materials. A person with such implants in their body will be at risk of serious injury if they enter an MRI environment. If you have a medical implant, you will be asked to give the details of its make and model number, which will help the MRI technician decide whether it is safe for you to get an MRI.
Risks associated with the contrast material
Sometimes before an MRI exam, the patient is injected with a contrast material that can help improve the results of the MRI images. This material is a gadolinium contrast agent and does not contain iodine like the contrast agents used in x-ray exams and CT scans. The lack of iodine means that the risk of allergy is very minimal. However, people with a history of kidney or liver disease must inform the MRI personnel before they are injected with the contrast agent.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women should inform the technician beforehand
An MRI is much safer than x-rays or CT scans where the fetus’s health is concerned as no radiation is involved. There are no known risks of conducting an MRI on a pregnant patient. However, it is still used with caution in pregnancies and only advised to address very important concerns. Hence if you’re pregnant or suspect you are pregnant, it is very important to let your doctor and the MRI technician know. Moreover, if you’re breastfeeding your child, this information should also be relayed before you get an MRI. This is because the contrast agent that is sometimes injected before an MRI can take around 24 hours to leave your system. You will probably be advised to pump breastmilk beforehand, which you can use to feed the baby.
An MRI is a safer diagnostic tool than X-ray imaging or CT scans as no radiation is involved. The MRI machine employs a big magnet to realign the water molecules in your body, which is then used to obtain images of the internal organs. The biggest risks involved with an MRI are due to this big magnet, which will attract any magnetic and ferromagnetic materials towards it with a huge force. Hence, patients are advised to leave personal belongings behind when getting an MRI and communicate the presence of any medical implants in their bodies. Let the MRI technician know if you are pregnant or breastfeeding or have a history of kidney or liver disease so they can consider the risks of injecting you with the contrast agent.