Nearly $50 billion is spent on the almost 40 million MRI scans conducted each year in the United States, according to a recent Forbes article. It’s a hefty medical expense, but one that most in the medical field feel is worth it due to the plethora of benefits the technology offers.
A powerful diagnostic tool, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) harnesses the power of a magnetic field, radio waves, and a computer system to generate detailed, high-quality images of the brain and other cranial structures.
Superior to computed tomography (CT) scans in some cases, MRI is the preferable mode of imaging for examining the brain because it can better distinguish between normal and abnormal soft tissue. From abscesses and aneurysms to tumors and hematomas, MRIs are highly beneficial when it comes to discovering structural abnormalities.
Before undergoing this imaging procedure, your physician will ask a series of questions about your medical history. Your technician will make sure that you aren’t wearing anything metal that may interfere with the machine’s functioning. In some cases, metal in the body – whether it be a prosthetic implant from surgery, metal shrapnel, piercings, or old tattoos – may preclude you from utilizing this diagnostic tool. Cochlear implants, clips used for brain aneurysms, some types of metal coils, and cardiac defibrillators are on the list of implants that are not safe to be scanned.
Performed at a hospital or radiology center, MRIs require the patient to lie flat on a narrow table that moves into a large, tunnel-shaped machine. Instead of using radiation (like X-rays), MRI radiofrequency waves realign hydrogen atoms within the body; as these atoms rearrange, they emit different amounts of energy, which are captured by an MRI scanner.
After the signals are processed, a series of slices (images) are developed. It is very important to lie perfectly still for the machine to capture useful images that your radiologist can read.
A hospital gown will be worn during the process, and because the machine can be quite noisy, most imaging centers will provide earplugs or headphones to mitigate this.
Talk to your doctor about any concerns or fears you may have about this diagnostic test. People with claustrophobia, a fear of closed-in spaces, may benefit from going to an imaging center with a wide-bore, short-bore or open MRI machine. While you will be alone during the exam, you can communicate with the technician who will be able to see, hear, and speak to you using an intercom.
Some brain scans, such as those for cancer that has spread to the brain or cranial nerve damage, will require the use of a contrast dye solution. Administered orally or intravenously, this solution travels through the bloodstream to a patient’s organs and tissue, which can then highlight certain parts of the MRI image. It is particularly helpful for bringing attention to abnormal growths or tumors.
The test takes around 30-60 minutes in total and is relatively risk-free, except for the rare possibility of allergic reaction to gadolinium (an ingredient in the contrast dye).
Each facility has different restrictions about what you may or may not eat prior to the MRI, so be sure to communicate with the facility or your referring physician beforehand.
Downtime can be a downside to so many tests in the medical field; luckily, unless you’re given a sedative, you can resume normal activities immediately following an MRI. Turnaround time for images can differ based on specific situations. However, your results will need to be examined by a trained radiologist before they are shared with you by your doctor. If there is an abnormality or further attention is needed, a follow-up may will be required.
Run by board-certified and fellowship-trained radiologists, Independent Imaging is one facility making MRIs easier than ever. In addition to offering MRIs without the need for contrast dye solutions, they have the use of an open, high-field MRI machine, which is ideal for those suffering from claustrophobia. Their staff prides themselves on allowing access to your image results promptly – typically having them in your physician’s hands within 24 to 48 hours of the procedure. For more information about brain scans, or to schedule an appointment, call Independent Imaging at (561) 795-5558.