Despite their wide popularity, misconceptions of MRI scans are still prominent. Some think these tests use harmful radiation, others believe implants of any kind are a contraindication for an MRI. Read this article to learn about what MRI tests really are.
Medical practitioners have been using various imaging tests for decades. One of these tests, MRI scans, has recently grown in popularity, but it has also acquired quite a few misconceptions. Read on to learn which of these misconceptions people should stop believing.
MRI Scans: The Purpose
Magnetic resonance imaging tests, or scans, were first introduced in the first half of the 20th century, but it wasn’t until the 1970s that they began to be widely used in medical practice. These scans exist alongside such diagnostic procedures, as X-rays, US-scans (ultrasonography), and CTs (computer tomography). Each test performs a specific role in diagnosing a patient; therefore, the doctor decide on which procedure to choose.
MRI tests are predominantly used for scanning soft tissues to determine the changes in chemical structure. They usually help to diagnose the conditions that are not visible in an X-ray. MRI scans are applicable to the following organs and systems:
- liver and gastrointestinal
- angiography, and others.
The application of these tests is wide, and people search all over the Internet to find an MRI. The popularity has also led to misunderstandings of the purpose and possible implications of scanning. Below we go through the most common false assumptions.
Common Misconceptions about MRI Scans
So, which ideas about MRI scans are right and which are wrong?
MRIs use radiation
Wrong. The false views on MRIs are mostly due to the fact that these tests fall under the same “imaging” category, as X-rays or CT scans that use radiation to create an image. In fact, at the dawn of its usage, MRI was also called a “nuclear magnetic resonance,” although it had nothing to do with an atomic bomb. However, some people are still wary of undergoing an X-ray, and, by extension, they are afraid of MRIs. The good news is that MRI machines use a strong magnetic field to create an image. There is no radiation, and it is quite safe for most patients.
MRIs cannot be performed on children and pregnant women
Wrong. First of all, MRI scans are not a procedure of choice for everyone. Doctors advise the patients not to undergo MRIs just because it is the latest medical fad. If it is better for a child to have an X-ray, there is no need to do an MRI test. MRI scans may take from 20 minutes to over an hour, depending on the area or organ, in which case small children need to be sedated. As for pregnant women, MRI tests and US-scanning can both be safely used for diagnosis, except for the first trimester of pregnancy.
MRIs cannot be performed on patients with claustrophobia
Wrong. This was true at the beginning when MRI machines used to be fairly narrow. Now they are manufactured with a wide opening to ensure the patient’s comfort because the procedure may last for over an hour. Furthermore, the machine is open from back and front, so the patient is not “encapsulated” in it, and the doctor or nurse is always near to monitor the condition of the patient. Still, if the patient is overly worried, the doctor may suggest using the sedatives.
MRIs cannot be performed on patients with implants
Here extra caution is required. Contemporary implantology takes into account the interaction of implants with the environment, including magnetic fields. However, if the patient had their implant procedure long ago, they must inform their doctor about it. It is true that people with heart or cochlear implants are advised against the MRI scanning for fear of possible negative implications. Under the influence of the magnetic field of the MRI machine, the electronics of these implants may malfunction or break down, posing a severe health threat. If using an MRI is unavoidable, it is possible to reduce the time of the procedure, to minimize this threat. In all other cases, e.g. metallic tooth implants or plastic implants, this is not a contraindication for MRI scanning.
MRI is bad for weather-dependent people
Again, extra caution is advised. Since MRI machines use a strong magnetic force and radio waves, weather-dependent people may feel dizzy or experience another discomfort after the procedure. The doctor will advise on how to reduce uncomfortable feelings.
CT is good for bones, while MRI is only for the soft tissues
Right. Computer tomography uses radiation to determine the physical condition of an organ, usually a bone, while MRI scans demonstrate the changes in chemical structure. This is the reason why MRIs are widely applied to diagnosing cancer and various other changes in the tissues. However, everything depends on the purpose of the test and its speed. If a patient had a traumatic brain injury and needs a surgery, CT will be the procedure of choice as the quickest.
MRI scanning is a precise diagnosis
Wrong. In fact, no test can be credited as the most accurate, but this is all the more true about imaging tests. For instance, if a patient has a back pain and undergoes an MRI, the scan will show “bulging discs” or various instances of stenosis. However, such “changes” are usually age-related and are not necessarily the cause of back pain. Any MRI findings must be clinically interpreted in connection with the patient’s medical history and physical exam.
An MRI is the same as a photograph
Wrong. The word “imaging” seems to be misleading here. During the procedure, a computer maps magnetic fields and radio waves to cells by using a unique signal for each cell type. The signal is recorded on the scan, and doctors identify the types of tissue, bone, joint, muscle, or cartilage.
The most common misconceptions concern the working principles of MRI scans and the health conditions that may prevent a patient from undergoing these imaging tests. In most cases, MRI scanning is a reliable diagnosis and is safe for most patients. It is advisable, though, to discuss having an MRI with your doctor and not to interpret its results independently.