What is an MRI scan?

MRI stands for Magnetic Resonance Imaging, also known as a magnetic scan. It is a research method that allows the inside of the body to be mapped very accurately. The MRI scan has been an integral part of medical diagnostics since the 1980s. An MRI scan provides high-contrast images of soft tissues and fluids without the use of X-rays.

MRI scan vs. CT-scan

An MRI scan is used, among other things, to produce photo images of:

  • brain;
  • vertebral column;
  • joints;
  • internal organs;
  • the blood vessels.

Compared to the computed tomography (CT scan), an MRI scan provides a high-contrast representation of soft tissues and fluids. And without using X-rays. The diagnostic information is obtained from hydrogen atoms located in the tissues of the human body. The tissue contrast in an MRI scan is considerably higher than in X-rays. This makes the distinction between healthy and diseased tissue a lot easier.

There are no harmful side effects

The MRI has no harmful side effects for you. There are no known carcinogenic effects. Nor has it been established that an MRI scan changes genetic material or harms the unborn child.

How is an MRI scan performed?

Simply put, an MRI scan proceeds as follows:

  • the patient lies in a kind of tunnel tube for the examination;
  • there is a constant magnetic field in it;
  • during the examination, radio waves are passed through the body;
  • Due to the combination with the magnetic field, the hydrogen atoms in the body themselves emit weak radio waves;
  • antennas capture these signals and process them into images via a computer.

For the examination you will need to lie down on a comfortable examination table. You will then be placed in the examination device. The body area to be examined should be approximately in the center of the device. There the magnetic field is very uniform. And that makes the best possible images possible. The actual MRI scan takes between fifteen minutes and an hour and a half, depending on the body part to be examined.

Remove metal objects from your body

Under certain circumstances you will have to undress (partly) for the examination. And you should remove certain objects from your body:

  • metal objects such as jewelry, watches and hair clips;
  • magnetically readable debit and credit cards. Because they will probably no longer work after the investigation.

Measurement of heart rate and breathing

loud noises during recording . That is why you also get hearing protection, usually by means of headphones. Through these headphones you can listen to music but also hear the voice of the investigating laboratory technicians. You can bring your own CD or choose from the hospital’s selection. For certain examinations, a band is placed around the abdomen. This measures your breathing rhythm . Sometimes you will receive specific breathing advice. Depending on your problems, your heart rate can also be measured. And a special, highly sensitive radio receiver coil may be placed directly on your body.

Try to relax

Despite the unusual situation, try to relax during the examination. You can deduce from the sometimes deafening sounds that the device is recording images. Depending on the nature of the images, this may take a few seconds to a few minutes. It is very important that you lie quietly at those moments. Otherwise, the images will become blurry, similar to photos with too long an exposure time. These images are not suitable for an accurate diagnosis.

Contact with the laboratory technician during the research

The laboratory technicians can always see and hear you during the entire examination. And sometimes speaking contact is possible via a microphone. In addition, you usually have a small balloon in your hand. This allows you to produce a ringing signal with a simple handshake, so that people can come to you immediately.

What is the function of contrast agents?

The administration of a contrast agent may be desirable as part of the examination. This allows abnormal tissue changes to be recognized or better defined. This contrast agent can make blood vessels in particular, but also inflammatory reactions or small tumors, more visible. The contrast agent is usually injected into a vein in the arm. You may experience a slight feeling of warmth . The body quickly excretes the contrast agent through the kidneys. The contrast agents used in an MRI scan are generally very well tolerated.

When cannot an MRI scan take place?

The presence of certain objects and substances in the body can make an MRI scan difficult or even impossible:

  • a pacemaker;
  • certain artificial heart valves;
  • metal splinters in the eyes, for example after an accident;
  • hip and knee prostheses;
  • hearing implants;
  • vascular clips.

Therefore, expressly inform the treating doctor or laboratory technician that there are such substances in your body. Please also inform your doctor if you are pregnant or suffer from severe allergies.

What if an MRI scan unexpectedly reveals other health problems?

In 2014, the Health Council drew attention to other health problems that are often revealed by an MRI scan or CT scan. In the opinion of the Council, doctors should inform their patients of this in advance. It must be agreed with the patient in which cases he or she would like to be informed about this.

As a doctor, you don’t want to worry patients unnecessarily

More and more often, doctors unexpectedly observe more disturbing things on images or in the blood. With today’s advanced equipment, increasingly sharper images are obtained. For example, what to do if the radiologist notices a nodule in the thyroid gland during an MRI scan of the spine? The older the patient, the greater the chance of this type of by-catch. Doctors often doubt whether or not to inform the patient about these types of coincidental observations.