Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
Magnetic Resonance Imaging
(Mag-net-ick Rez-on-nonce Imaging)
An MRI is one type of diagnostic (die-ag-noz-tick) test doctors may order to evaluate the spine. It is a valuable tool that may even replace certain invasive (e.g. through the skin) diagnostic procedures! MRIs are performed in hospitals, medical centers, and MRI facilities.
Wow! - This Looks Different Than an X-Ray!
The images produced by an MRI are very detailed - much different than a standard x-ray. The MRI image is prepared using 256 levels of gray! It is easy to see the vertebrae, discs, the spinal cord, and nerve roots. One large piece of film may contain a dozen or more "snap shots" of a particular body part.
The science of MRI is different from a standard x-ray. How? MRI does not use radiation to produce images. It uses energy in the form of radio waves within the electromagnetic spectrum (elec-tro-mag-net-ick). Computer technology further assists in producing high quality imaging of the body's interior.
Getting Ready for an MRI
It is easy to get ready for the test. You need to remove any metal objects (like belts or jewelry) and change into a gown. Sometimes a "contrast agent" is used. This is a special dye that is injected into your bloodstream to brighten particular body parts and make them easier to see.
During the MRI scan, you simply lie down comfortably on a motorized padded table. The table slides into the scanner surrounded by huge powerful magnets, which cannot be seen. The magnets are inside the equipment. Many facilities use "open-air" MRI scanners today. The open-air environment is helpful to patients who are claustrophobic (claw-stro-foe-bick) - a fear of being in an enclosed place.
MRI Not For Everyone
People who have pacemakers, shrapnel (gun shell fragments), or other metal cannot undergo an MRI. These "ferromagnetic" (fair-oh-mag-net-ick) objects are attracted by the MRI equipment's magnet.
During the MRI Scan
During the scan, you need to lie as still as possible on the padded table. Sometimes the room is chilly so the staff will cover you with a blanket or two. Often earphones are offered so you can listen to music during the test.
The technician watches you during the entire test through large windows from the control room. The technician can talk to you over an intercom. Through the entire test the technician and staff keep you posted on what is happening - no surprises! There is absolutely nothing to be afraid of!
The MRI machine can make quite a bit of noise while it is operating. Sometimes the sounds are like jungle drums, tap tap tapping, or dadadada. Once again, this is totally normal!
The MRI films are given to a Radiologist (a type of doctor) to review. The Radiologist writes a report to the patient's doctor outlining his/her findings.