Technology has advanced to the extent where even the traditional “closed” MRI machines have improved and adapted to patient comfort with wider tables, larger tubes, etc. But people with real claustrophobia and anxiety issues suffer even through these.
The Open MRI Option
People who are claustrophobic may fare better with open MRI machines. It is also more comfortable for very overweight or obese patients. The high-field open MRI offers more space and more airflow for greater comfort. Open MRI machines have wider openings and are less confining. They allow technicians to communicate and maintain eye contact with the patient on the table for a more empathic and calm experience.
Faster scanning speeds reduce the imaging corruptions caused by the patient’s motion, because they have to remain stationary for shorter periods. Images are clearer and usually more acceptable on the first try.
Open MRI vs. Closed MRI
An MRI (whether closed or open) does not require ionizing radiation, which means that it is a safe, non-invasive, effective diagnostic tool.
Both machines use advanced computers, radio waves, and powerful magnetic fields that create finely detailed images that can show damaged or diseased internal body organs, soft tissue, bones, and other systems. These scans help the physician to diagnose a wide range of conditions throughout the body.
There are two main types of Closed MRI machines:
- The “Open unit” is a large, donut-shaped, closed ring that patients pass through for the exam.
- The “Closed unit” completely envelops patients during the scan. The narrow bore (often measuring only 60 cm) tube can give a “buried-alive” sensation in the enclosure.
MRI scans tend to be long, from 40 minutes up to two hours. This extended timespan in an enclosed MRI unit, lying motionless and stiff often causes discomfort, even claustrophobia in individuals who have never experienced claustrophobia before. Many patients suffer to such an extent they cannot complete the scan in a closed unit.
Wide-open design MRI machines allow patients to look around the exam room, watch television, or, (especially with children), remain near a family member.
Open MRI machines have two flat magnets on the top and bottom areas, with a large space to accommodate the patient. The open space in between often alleviates discomfort or claustrophobia, as the patient is not fully enclosed. This design produces high quality images and provides optimal comfort.
An open MRI can be the perfect solution to balance imaging needs and patient comfort.
Benefits of Open MRI Machines:
- Increased patient comfort
- Reduced claustrophobia
- Patient size is of less concern
- Increased volume of scans
- Greater ease in positioning body
- Lower upfront and maintenance costs
The Open vs. Closed Debate:
Open MRI machines use the same, advanced diagnostic imaging procedure as traditional MRI machines. Both create detailed images of internal bodily structures without the use of X-rays, using instead a powerful magnet, radio waves and a computer. In some cases, these ‘open’ machines, due to their asymmetrical design might not provide as good a quality image as those not so open, but people often feel more comfortable in them.
Limitations of Open MRI
Magnet strength and quality of imaging in closed MRI machines is superior because of the enclosed tubular design, especially for soft tissue imaging.
However, other than for deep tissue imaging, the lower power of open MRIs isn’t an issue. Open MRIs generate sufficient magnetic resonance imaging for:
- Head scans – aneurysms, tumors, concussions, nerve injuries, or stroke damage
- Heart scans – heart muscles, valves and blood vessels
- Chest scans – lung and breast cancer or disease
- Circulatory system scans – blocked or torn blood vessels
- Abdominal scans – tumors or infection in liver, pancreas, bladder, gallbladder, and kidneys
- Pelvic scans – uterus, ovaries, and prostate
- Bone and joint scans – arthritis and torn ligaments
- Spinal scans – tumors and bulging, herniated discs
When is an MRI Really Open?
MRI technology evolves and improves constantly. Many closed MRIs are now designed with increased patient-comfort in mind, while open MRIs are developing in terms of more powerful imaging capabilities.
There are three different types of open MRI machines:
- Semi open high field MRI scanners provide a short bore (tunnel) and wide ends. Only the affected body area lies under the magnet.
- Open low field MRI machines have a wide-open design. Patients have an open sided space around allowing a wider range of positions.
- Advanced open MRI scanners combine open design, latest gradient technology and high field strength. Patients can stand or sit upright with no obstruction in front.
The Future of MRI Scanning
MRI technology has dramatically advanced. Better image quality, faster exam times, and less noisy, these sleekly designed machines provide high-quality results and enhanced patient comfort.
Short bore magnets combine the accuracy of a tunnel scanner with the comfort of an open MRI. They are much less constrictive and can produce a high field. This can help prevent unnecessary MRI anxiety and allow extremely large patients to be tested.