What is MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging)?

MRI or Magnetic Resonance Imaging is a relatively new technology that is revolutionizing several fields. This method of scanning was developed primarily for use in medicine but it has also been used to study fossils and historical artefacts. Early doctors were only able to gather data about a patient through observation and rudimentary tests. X-Rays provided doctors with one of the first ways of peering within a living person. The MRI is one of the exciting successors to the X-Ray.

To perform a MRI scan, the patient is securely placed on an imaging table within a large MRI scanner. Powerful magnetic fields are administered to align the nuclei within the atoms of the patient’s body. Next, radio frequency pulses are applied; finally, the nuclei release some of the radio frequency energy and these emissions are detected by the MRI equipment. With this data, a computer generates a surprisingly detailed view of tissues within the body.

Earlier imaging technologies, such as X-rays, were able to detect dense tissues, particularly bones. MRIs give doctors the ability to view all sorts of body structures including soft tissues.

MRIs are frequently used to detect cancers that would otherwise be difficult to diagnose, such as mesothelioma. The ability to detect cancers at their early stages has brought these scanners to the forefront of the battle against many diseases. It is generally believed that patients are not harmed by undergoing the procedure since MRIs do not use radiation. There are not any side-effects, but patients with pacemakers or other metallic implants are not eligible for these scans.

Exams typically take between 30 minutes and one hour. Early models of MRI scanners required patients to be placed in confined positions; newer versions of these expensive machines, however, are based on an open design that is much more spacious and comfortable. The images themselves are often available immediately after the scan and the patient is able to resume normal activity.