If you have been injured or are experiencing unusual symptoms or an illness, a doctor may order magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to diagnose the extent of tissue damage or find the underlying cause of your condition. It’s common to be reluctant or nervous about the often claustrophobia-inducing procedure — but there is a less-confining alternative to traditional MRIs.
If you’re worried about the MRI tube, an open MRI may be a viable alternative for you.
What’s the Difference Between a Traditional MRI and an Open MRI?
A traditional, or closed MRI, is a medical procedure that has been around since the late 1970s. Using a capsule-like magnet machine, doctors can take high-quality, detailed images of the body’s internal organs and structures to diagnose underlying health conditions, diseases and disorders or get a closer look at serious injuries.
The patient lies in the closed machine and must remain incredibly still to prevent inaccurate or blurry images. Being confined to a tube for several very-still minutes can cause patients with claustrophobia to experience severe anxiety and distress.
The shape of an MRI machine is crucial for capturing images of specific areas in the body that doctors must see in order to give an accurate diagnosis and develop a treatment plan for a patient. A closed MRI is not limited in where it can scan in the body because of its tube-like structure.
This is where the open MRI differs. Although the technology is essentially the same, the patient is not fully encapsulated in an open MRI machine.
A traditional MRI looks kind of like a donut when you’re standing in front of it, while an open MRI looks more like a hamburger with no meat patty. In this analogy, the two magnets on the top and bottom are the buns and the table on which the patient lies can slide between them. The fixed top and bottom positioning of the magnets is why the imaging can potentially be limited.
There are alternative open MRI configurations that feature magnets on the side.
How Does an MRI Work?
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a type of medical imaging that uses a magnetic field and radio waves to create detailed images of the body’s internal tissues, organs and skeletal system.
During an MRI, the magnets temporarily realign water molecules in the body. The radio waves then cause the water molecules to produce faint signals that are used to create MRI images.
These detailed images are used by doctors and medical professionals to help identify issues related to:
- Brain injuries
- Cartilage degeneration
- Bone infections
- Spinal cord disorders
- Joint abnormalities
- Disc disease
Is There a Risk of Radiation with an MRI?
There is no risk of radiation exposure during an MRI because the imaging device uses magnetic fields instead of radiation. While MRIs do not produce the ionizing radiation found in other imaging techniques, like X-rays or CT scans, the strong magnetic field cannot be safely used on patients with certain types of medical implants.
Your doctor may suggest another form of medical imaging if you have:
- Cochlear implants
- Intracranial aneurysm clips
- Implanted pacemakers
- Prosthetic devices
- Bone-growth stimulators
- Implanted drug infusion pumps
- Intrauterine contraceptive devices
- Iron-based metal implants
How Are X-Rays and CT Scans Different from an MRI?
MRIs, X-rays and CT scans are all forms of medical imaging commonly used by doctors to see what’s happening inside a patient’s body. Depending on your condition or area of concern, your doctor may order one or more of these diagnostic imaging tests.
X-rays are the most widely available form of medical imaging. Those diagnostic devices produce two-dimensional (2-D) images using a small dose of ionizing radiation. They are commonly used to see bones and detect pneumonia and cancers.
CT scans are more versatile than X-rays because they take three-dimensional (3-D) and 360-degree images. They are typically used to diagnose conditions found in organs and soft tissues.
While X-rays and CT scans are vital diagnostic tools, MRIs remain a more flexible form of medical imaging. Magnetic resonance imaging is used to examine things like joints, ligaments, tendons and soft tissues that can’t be easily captured using alternative diagnostic devices. These images are often vital in helping a physician develop a proper diagnosis.
Open MRI Specialists in Atlanta
AllSpine Laser and Surgery Center understands that seeking medical care can often be overwhelming and sometimes nerve-racking. Our specialists are trained to perform medical procedures with your health and comfort in mind.
Residents in the Atlanta area trust AllSpine for their medical imaging needs, especially when it comes to open MRIs.
Next time you need an MRI, send us your doctor’s referral and we’ll take care of the rest. Schedule an appointment by calling (770) 997-0600.