What is a Diagnostic MRI?

Nat Robinson

A diagnostic magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a medical imaging test used to detect abnormalities in the human body. This noninvasive imaging test produces computer images using electromagnetic radio waves. Detailed images of bones, organs, and muscles can be produced by a diagnostic MRI. In addition, the test can pick up on other internal structures of the body such as ligaments, nerves, and soft tissues. The test is generally used to diagnose diseases and to help determine the best course of treatment for any abnormalities found.

A medical professional can review MRI scans for signs of internal injury or disease.
A medical professional can review MRI scans for signs of internal injury or disease.

In appearance, the diagnostic equipment is comprised of a large cylinder tube which is surrounded by a circular magnet. The patient lies on a table, which slides into the large cylinder, for the duration of the test. People who are claustrophobic may find being confined inside the cylinder the worst part of the test. Some facilities offer an open MRI as an alternative; this type of diagnostic machine has open compartments so that the patient is not completely confined inside the cylinder.

An MRI scan of the head can be used to help diagnose problems in the brain.
An MRI scan of the head can be used to help diagnose problems in the brain.

There are many different reasons a patient might undergo a diagnostic MRI. A patient complaining of abdominal pain may have this test to provide his doctor with an accurate view of the organs and tissues of the abdomen and pelvis. Results could reveal abnormal bleeding, infection, blockages, and tumors.

An MRI machine.
An MRI machine.

The heart is another organ that can often be more clearly examined by this type of test than other common imaging techniques. A diagnostic MRI can provide an in-depth image of the heart, its muscles, the coronary arteries, and valves. This may reveal plaque build up in the arteries and the thickness of the heart's chambers. The test can also show structural damage to the heart, which may be especially beneficial to patients who have recently suffered a heart attack.

An MRI machine uses a magnetic field and radio waves to create pictures of internal organs and bone structures.
An MRI machine uses a magnetic field and radio waves to create pictures of internal organs and bone structures.

Individuals involved in a accident may undergo an emergency diagnostic MRI. A MRI can be especially beneficial in emergency situations involving traumatic head injuries because it can show nerve injury and possible bleeding in the brain. A situation such as this will need to be addressed quickly and accurately, and this test can provide very precise information. In addition, individuals who have experienced other neurological conditions such as an aneurysm or stroke may undergo an MRI to evaluate damage to the brain and the possible treatment needed.

Injuries or abnormalities can often be diagnosed through MRI scans.
Injuries or abnormalities can often be diagnosed through MRI scans.

Bone and joint injuries may be evaluated by a MRI because it can clearly show bones, ligaments, muscles, and surrounding tissues. This can enable physicians to adequately diagnose the difference between ligament and tendon tears and ruptures, as well as being able to examine the severity of broken bones. Infections and conditions causing inflammation of the joints, such as arthritis, can also be detected by this test. Individuals with back problems may also undergo a MRI to check for fluids or abnormal growths on the spine.

Commonly, doctors will recommend patients undergo a diagnostic MRI rather than other imaging devices such as a ultrasound, computed tomography (CT scan), or a positron emission tomography (PET scan) because a MRI can generally provide more detailed images. Generally, there is no great preparation for undergoing this test, with the exception that in some cases the individual may need to fast for a few hours before the test takes place. Contrast dye may be used to highlight internal structures and a tingling or warming sensation may be experienced as a result of the contrast. After completion of the test, the patient is usually free to leave and will be called with the results after they are reviewed by a radiologist.

MRIs generally provide more detailed images than other methods, including CT scans.
MRIs generally provide more detailed images than other methods, including CT scans.

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