Understanding Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a noninvasive medical tool that uses a powerful magnetic field, radio frequency pulses and a computer to produce detailed pictures of organs and tissues without the risks of ionizing radiation. It is extremely safe and is a good alternative for imaging children and pregnant women when medically necessary. MRI is especially effective for studying the brain, spinal cord, muscles and joints, and bone marrow. In the abdomen and pelvis it can be a powerful problem solving tool to examine the liver, pancreas, kidneys, adrenal glands, small intestines, uterus and ovaries. A contrast agent called Gadolinium® is often used to provide more detailed images of the tissue and organs.
Specially designed MRIs provide even more effective imaging of a patient’s organs and tissues. Breast MRI is a relatively new technique in the evaluation of breast disease and is extremely sensitive for cancer detection. A cardiac MRI can be performed to evaluate the structure and function of the heart. Magnetic Resonance Angiography (MRA) provides a detailed look at blood vessels, sometimes with a contrast agent injected into the vein. MRAs are specifically used to look for the cause of stroke and blood vessel diseases.
WellStar Resources and Support
WellStar offers the most advanced technology in MRI systems to ensure the best diagnostic quality of your procedure. This involves the use of the strongest clinically available magnets, at 1.5 and 3 Teslas. Teslas are a unit of magnetic field strength. Use of stronger magnetic fields allows greater image resolution permitting imaging of smaller structures. It also allows exams to be completed more quickly, improving patient comfort and reducing artifacts from patient motion.
Our scanners include 3.0T MRI, available at WellStar Kennestone Hospital for outpatient imaging; and High-Field Short Bore MRI (1.5T), available at all WellStar imaging centers. For those patients who are claustrophobic or whose body size will not allow them to fit into standard magnets, we have High-Field Open MRI (1.0T), available at WellStar Kennestone Imaging Center in Towne Lake and WellStar Paulding Imaging Center.
Before the Procedure
Unless instructed otherwise by the WellStar imaging staff, no special preparations are required for most MRIs. You can follow your normal diet, activity and medication except if your MRI examines the abdomen. In that case, you may not have anything to eat or drink for six hours before the examination.
You should inform your WellStar physician or radiologist if you believe you might be pregnant, have allergies or kidney problems. You should also inform your doctor if you have any implanted medical devices or artificial joints as they may interfere with the scanning. If you have issues with claustrophobia, you may want to ask your doctor to prescribe a mild sedative prior to the examination or possibly schedule you for an Open MRI examination.
For the examination itself, you should wear loose, comfortable clothing and avoid garments that have zippers, clasps, belts or any other metal fasteners. You will be asked to remove any jewelry, wallets, or anything that might interfere with the MRI.
During the Procedure
When you arrive, WellStar nurses or technologists will position you on the moveable examination table. If a contrast material is necessary for the examination, a nurse or a technologist will insert an intravenous tube into a vein in your arm or your hand.
It is essential that you remain as relaxed as possible, since even small movements can hinder efforts to complete a quality exam. Ask for a blanket, a pillow, headphones or ear plugs to make the exam more comfortable.
After the initial preparation, you will be moved into the large central opening of the MRI machine. During the test, the technologist will monitor your progress from the control room as the machine creates a magnetic field around you and directs radio waves at the part of your body being examined. You will not hear or feel the magnetic field or radio waves, but there may be loud tapping and thumping from inside the machine during the procedure.
MRI exams generally include multiple series, with pauses between these episodes of imaging.
When the exam is finished, you will be taken out of the machine, and the intravenous line will be removed.
The entire out-patient procedure, including preparation time, typically takes between 45 to 90 minutes.
After the Procedure
Once you have completed an MRI, you may resume most of your normal, everyday activities. There should be no recovery time unless you needed sedation.