Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) creates the most detailed 3D images of soft tissue within the body, far better than those produced by X-rays or CT scans.

MRI scan technology uses electromagnets to probe the body. Ssignals the body produces in response are picked up by radio receivers and relayed to a complex computer system for expert analysis.

The doctors and consultants are then able to ‘see inside’ the body, as the computer converts the signals into 3D images on screen. These images show different types of tissue in various shades of grey, allowing tumours or other abnormalities to be clearly seen.

MRI Scans do not hurt and are considered safer than X-rays, or scans which track radioactive markers. However, you may need a sedative to relax during the scan, as you will have to lie still for up to an hour.

This article on MRI scan is written by Jackie Griffiths, a freelance journalist who writes health, medical, biological, and pharmaceutical articles for national and international journals, newsletters and web sites.

Why would you have it?

MRI Scans produce highly detailed images of soft tissue, which can be used to investigate and diagnose a wide range of conditions, including:

  • Brain damage, blood clots or haemorrhages
  • Cardiac problems, blockages, and muscle damage
  • Cancer assessment, including locating tumours for radiotherapy
  • Other problems with the circulatory system or internal organs

There are two types of MRI Scan – closed and open.

The closed MRI scan

Most UK hospitals still use the closed MRI scan system, which involves the patient lying very still inside a large metal tube for a long period of time. The process can be very noisy and quite frightening, especially as the tube is fairly small, leaving the walls just inches or less from your body, head, and face.

These feelings of unease can be multiplied by the noise of the machinery, which in some cases can be very loud and clunky. Many patients who suffer claustrophobia find even the concept of a closed MRI Scan terrifying.

The closed MRI Scan presents particular problems for younger patient, who cannot have the reassurance of their parent close by. It can also be difficult for larger framed patients and those with disabilities.

The open MRI scan

In response to the problems of the closed ‘tube’ MRI Scan, open scanning systems have been developed. Instead of a tube structure, the Open MRI Scan consists of a gantry that is open on four sides. The new generation of open MRI scanners are also considerably quieter.

These new scanners produce images of comparable quality to the closed scan, while reducing the trauma for many patients.

The advantages

The new Open MRI Scanners offer many benefits, including:

  • Vastly reduced anxiety for patients, especially those with claustrophobia
  • A more reassuring environment for younger patients who can even have their hand held during the procedure
  • The possibility of scanning larger patients, including the obese, and large framed patients like sportsmen
  • The flexibility to scan disabled patients who would not be able to use a traditional scanner
  • A reduced need for sedatives for patients undergoing the procedure, as they feel much more relaxed

The upright MRI scan

MRI scan technology has advanced still further with the introduction of the upright MRI Scanner. Currently only available privately in London, the upright scanner has the advantage that the patient can have an MRI scan carried out in a weight bearing position, showing the body, bones, and organs in their natural posture.

With the Upright MRI Scan, patients can stand, sit, or lie back slightly, and are even able to watch DVDs on a plasma screen during treatment, easing their anxiety still further.

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