Are MRI Scans Safe?

Should I worry about having too many MRIs?

We live in a world where it has become commonplace to casually talk about things that would have been laughed off as pure science fiction or condemned as witchcraft in the not too distant past. This is especially true with medical devices and procedures in use today. Perhaps even more interesting is the fact that we talk about procedures that our friends or family members have had or that we are scheduled for ourselves without having even the most basic concept of how the technology works. A perfect example of this is the MRI.

Despite the fact that pretty much everyone has experienced some sort of back or joint pain and has either had their own MRI or knows someone who has, how many do you suppose could readily tell you that MRI is the acronym for Magnetic Resonance Imaging? That would at least provide a clue that magnets must be involved in some way.

In fact, an MRI machine is basically a large magnet that an individual lies inside of. Living tissue contains hydrogen atoms that are temporarily realigned by the magnetic field created during the MRI scan. Radio waves then cause the atoms to give off signals that are converted to 3-D images, which are extremely valuable because they can show the area in question from different angles.   

MRIs are noninvasive and provide high-resolution images of not only bones but also organs and tissue. This is why it has become the procedure of choice when doctors need clear images of knees, hips and shoulders, as well as the brain, spinal cord and nerves. Plus, unlike x-rays and CT (computed tomography) scans, an MRI does not use any sort of ionizing radiation, which has always been an issue with these tests.

Are There Risks Associated with an MRI?

The risks inherent in the MRI are all things that should be considered and taken care of in advance. Because the scan employs such a powerful magnet, your doctor must be made aware of any metal before scheduling. Any that cannot be removed may necessitate a different form of scan. Some examples are:

  • Metallic prostheses
  • Pacemaker, defibrillator or artificial heart valves that contain metal parts
  • Metal clips
  • Cochlear implants
  • Shrapnel or other metal fragments
  • Tattoos that have metal-based ink
  • Piercings
  • Pins or screws

Noise is a factor with an MRI, with some machines surpassing 100 decibels. Special ear protection may be required.

To date, there is no evidence that an MRI is dangerous during pregnancy but most physicians opt to postpone this procedure, especially during the initial trimester.

Contrast agents are sometimes used during the scan to produce an even brighter, clearer image. Anyone with liver or kidney issues are advised to discuss this prior to the procedure.

While technically not a risk, claustrophobia is probably the biggest fear associated with an MRI. Fortunately, there are a variety of methods that can be used to lessen the discomfort. While some opt for mild sedation, many find visualization techniques or listening to music through headphones quite effective. For those who struggle with this process, new designs are becoming available that incorporate an MRI machine that is not only open on the sides but also quieter.

At Long Island Spine Rehabilitation Medicine, our physicians are committed to more than just treating your symptoms. We strongly believe that each individual is best served through an integrative treatment plan. We focus on finding the underlying cause and providing non-surgical, evidenced based solutions tailored to your specific condition and needs. If you are experiencing pain or have questions about MRIs or any other service, we invite you to schedule a consultation by using our convenient online form by clicking here.