What is an MRI?

By HealthPriceCompare - Jan 3, 2023

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a safe and pain-free imaging technique that uses a combination of magnets and radio waves to produce detailed images of the body for diagnostic purposes. This powerful yet noninvasive imaging device uses magnets and radio waves to produce detailed 3D images of inside the body. This allows organs, muscles and other soft tissues to be easily viewed compared to a standard X-ray which only shows bones and joints. Approximately 40 million MRI procedures were performed in the U.S. in 2019.

What are the types of MRIs?

There are two types of MRI: closed and open. The closed MRI has been around longer and is what most people think of when the word MRI first comes to mind. This design consists of a closed capsule where the patient lies completely still. A related type of closed MRI is the wide-bore variety. These are similar to standard closed MRI machines but have slightly more space inside and can be a good compromise between image quality and personal comfort.

The open MRI is, as the name implies, open on all four sides. This is beneficial for those suffering from claustrophobia since it has the same technology as a closed MRI but gives the patient open space in the front, back and above that allows the patient to sit, bend or even stand. A drawback to this approach is that the quality may not be what it is on a closed MRI.

What should I expect when getting an MRI?

Some patients will need to be injected with contrast which is a fluid that enhances the quality of the image and makes it easier to read by making areas of the body stand out more. Whether you need the contrast for your MRI is up to the doctor and depends on the type of procedure and your particular health conditions. The contrast material helps show things like Inflammation, tumors, blood vessels, and infections.

Generally speaking, you will want to remain still while you are in the machine. Movement in the MRI machine interferes with the quality of the image, which makes it take more time.

How long will an MRI take?

For joints like the knee, ankle, hip, elbow, or wrist, it can take 25 to 45 minutes. The particulars of the joint and procedure can make the time vary considerably.

If you need an MRI of your brain or spine without contrast, the procedure can take about 45 minutes. A contrast MRI for the brain or spine, on the other hand, may take about 15 minutes longer.

A body MRI typically takes from 45 minutes to an hour to complete.

A cardiac MRI can take the longest. Your heart is almost always in motion and because motion makes it harder for the scanner to get a good image, this can result in the exam taking anywhere from 90 minutes to 2 hours to get a clear image.

Breast imaging may take 45 minutes to an hour, with more time needed if a biopsy is required. Most breast MRIs require the injection of contrast, when can add to the preparation and wait time in the clinic.