Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) benefits and risks

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MRI scan uses magnetic Resonance for diagnostic imaging of the body. The advantages and benefits of MRI outweigh its possible risks. MRI scan is an extremely accurate procedure used throughout the body to detect abnormal conditions as well as diseases. It is a painless medical radiological diagnostic procedure with benefits of having no risks of ionizing radiation.

MRI uses

This technique is used extensively for imaging and evaluating the condition of most of the body parts and organs, especially soft tissues. Benefit of MRI is that surgical procedures can be accurately directed or deferred on the basis of scan results.

Clinical MRI scanner
Clinical Magnetic Resonance Imaging scanner
  • In the head, MRI scans are used to detect trauma to the brain like hemorrhage, swelling, tumors, stroke, aneurysms (a localized, blood-filled balloon-like bulge in the wall of a blood vessel) and demyelinating diseases, such as multiple sclerosis.
  • MRI use benefits us in evaluating the integrity of the spinal cord after spinal injuries as well as severe spinal infections and in avoiding the risks of further damage.
  • In injuries to back, the conditions of vertebrae, nerve tissues, the intervertebral fibrocartilage (or intervertebral discs) and disc prolapse, if any, can be evaluated and avoiding possible risks is a great benefit.
  • This procedure gives the benefit of knowing the condition of heart, aorta and lungs and detecting tears, blocks, fluid accumulations and aneurysms.
  • MRI (MR Angiography) is used to monitor blood vessels.
  • MRI can be used to get valuable information about the status of organs and systems like liver, kidneys, gastrointestinal tract, endocrine and  exocrine systems with associated glands.
  • MRI is used in diagnosis of health problems with pelvic organs like prostate gland and testicles in men and uterus, cervix and ovaries in women.
  • Its use benefits to know presence of fibroids, endometriosis and adenomyosis in women.
  • Its use benefits issueless couple in detecting the cause of infertility.
  • It benefits to assess the condition of bones, joints, cartilage and the associated soft tissues like tendons and ligaments.
Cardiac MRI showing inferior infarction
Cardiac MRI showing inferior infarction

MRI benefits

  • The most important benefit of MRI is that, unlike X-ray and CT scan, there is no ionizing radiation and it does not cause DNA damage.
  • Its major technological benefit is that it can be used to characterize and discriminate among organ tissues using their physical and biochemical properties.
  • Another important benefit is its diagnostic accuracy in detecting structural anomalies and abnormalities of the body.
  • Another benefit of MRI is that the brain, spinal cord and nerves are seen comparatively clearer when compared to x-rays and CAT scans.
  • In radiation therapy for tumors, precise delivery is essential so as not to damage healthy tissues. There is a great benefit in use of prior MRI of the tumor mass to know its precise location, shape and orientation for taking up radiation therapy.
  • MRI benefits diagnosis of congenital defects of the fetus as there is no ionizing radiation.
  • Another benefit of MRI is that it poses no risk to patient if the guidelines are followed.
  • The use of functional MRI benefits in assessing the blood flow to the brain.

MRI risks

  • If appropriate safety guidelines are followed MRI scan poses almost no risk and has many benefits.
  • Ferromagnetic objects taken near the scanner have the risk of causing “missile-effect” accidents and there have been incidences of casualties and death.
  • There is a possibility of risk damage to jewelry, hearing aids, keys, magnetic stripe cards and wrist watches due to magnetic field.
  • Foreign metallic materials like surgical clips and prosthetic devices like metallic orthopedic bone plates and artificial joints can significantly distort the images and have the risk of damage.
  • MRI is contraindicated in patients with metallic implants, heart pacemakers, vagus nerve stimulators (VNS), cardioverter defibrillator (ICD), metal chips or clips as the magnet may displace them from the original place. The risk includes death as it has happened in some patients with pacemakers.
  • People with metal fragments in their body, artificial metallic heart valves, metallic eye or cochlear implants or tattoo with metallic dyes should not have MRI scans as they run the risk of burn injuries, impairment of the devices or trauma.
  • There is a risk of peripheral nerve stimulation (PNS) due to frequent switching of the magnetic field gradients.
  • When the superconducting electromagnet of MRI scanner is suddenly shut down, there is a risk of rapid boiling of liquid helium from the scanner. Its leakage may displace oxygen and present a risk of asphyxiation to those present in the scanner room.
  • Patient under the scanner may experience irritating loud clicking and beeping noises. Appropriate ear protection is required to avoid the risk of ear damage.
  • Chelates of gadolinium are injected in specific cases for obtaining contrast images. In rare cases there is a risk of patient developing urticaria or anaphylactoid reactions. In patients with severe renal failure, use of gadolinium containing agents may cause nephrogenic systemic fibrosis.
  • In the first trimester of pregnancy pregnant women are advised not to undergo MRI as its use may pose a risk to the fetus.
  • MRI procedure has the risk of claustrophobic sensation in some patients and require mild sedation.

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Cardiac MRI showing inferior infarction
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