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What is MRI?
MRI stands for Magnetic Resonance Imaging. An MRI obtains images of various parts of the body without the use of x-rays (ionizing radiation). An MR scanner consists of a large and very strong magnet which surrounds the patient. A specialized antenna transmits radiofrequency energy (RF) into the body and then receives the RF signals back. These returning signals are converted into pictures by a computer attached to the scanner. Pictures of almost any part of the body can be obtained at almost any angle.
IS MRI safe?
MRI is safe in the majority of patients although certain patients may not be able to have an MRI. These include people who are extremely claustrophobic and those with implanted medical devices such as certain aneurysm clips in the brain, heart pacemakers, and cochlear (inner ear) implants. Also, those people with pieces of metal close to or in an organ (such as the eye) may not be scanned. Please inform the technologist if you are pregnant or breast-feeding. There are a few additional safety considerations and some exceptions based on individual circumstances.
What will the MRI experience be like?
You will be asked to lie still on a table that will move your body into the center of the magnet. Prior to the table moving, you will be offered either earplugs to reduce the noise you hear or stereo headphones to listen to your favorite music. You will hear some "knocking" noises while the scanner is preparing for scanning and taking the pictures. You may also feel some vibration during the knocking noise and some slight movement of the table during the examination.
Some patients will be given a contrast injection in an arm vein. The contrast, called gadolinium, is a very safe contrast agent and is unrelated to the iodine used for CT scans and kidney x-rays. The major potential side effect is nephrogenic systemic fibrosis (NSF) which occurs almost exclusively in patients with advanced renal failure. If you have a kidney problem, please notify the technologist prior to your scan.
What are the uses and advantages of an MRI?
MRIs are good for looking at the non-bony parts or "soft tissues" of the body. In particular, the brain, spinal cord, and nerves are seen much more clearly with MRI than regular x-rays and CT scans. Also, MRI scans are commonly used to look at joints (e.g. knee, shoulder, ankle, wrist) to evaluate for soft tissue injury (e.g. ACL tear, meniscal tear, rotator cuff problem) and also to evaluate some bony lesions which are not detected with CT or X-rays (e.g. bone contusion, subtle fracture, tumor etc).
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