MRI — Is It Safe? Is It For Me?

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    Mary M. Saltz, MD is our Chief Clinical Integration Officer and an Assistant Clinical Professor of Radiology. She is a board-certified, sub-specialty trained radiologist with special expertise in Quality and Safety. Here she speaks about MRI usage and safety.

    Did you know that MRI technology was discovered in Stony Brook University’s Department of Chemistry more than 30 years ago? It’s true, and it led to a Nobel Prize in medicine for Stony Brook Professor Paul Lauterbur. Today MRI is one of the most widely used imaging techniques in the world. And, at Stony Brook Medicine, we continue to be dedicated to bringing the most advanced imaging technology to Suffolk County.

    What is MRI?

    MRI stands for Magnetic Resonance Imaging, and uses strong magnets to create pictures of the body. By placing the body or body parts into a very powerful magnetic field, the atomic particles within us are affected by the magnetic field, and shift to align with the magnet – just like you see with iron particles and a hardware store magnet. When the magnet is turned off, these particles relax back to the way they usually lie. Imagine what happens when you take that hardware store magnet away from the iron filings — they go all over the place, as they were before you applied the magnet.

    The process of returning back to the usual state creates a detectable signal, and when this signal is captured and analyzed, images or pictures of what lies within us are created. Different parts of the body respond differently when placed in a magnetic field, so, for example, bone creates a different signal from fat. Diseased tissues look different from normal tissue, and MRI scans allow a powerful view inside us.

    Is MRI safe?

    Yes! For the right patient, MRI is very safe. Unlike CT scans or plain x-rays, no ionizing radiation is used to do an MRI scan. For the right clinical indications, MRI can even be safe for pregnant women.

    Is MRI safe for every patient?

    Patients who have metals in their bodies, which could be affected badly by a strong magnetic field, should not have an MRI. Things like some types of pacemakers, certain types of metal clips used in surgery and metal fragments near the eye, among other things, should not be put into the strong magnetic field generated by an MRI.

    Our Stony Brook technologists make sure to get a complete history of each patient considering an MRI, which might mean you should not have an MRI. We have a complete and updated list of what is safe and what is not safe to put into the MRI scanner. Before you get your scan, we make sure it is safe.

    It is important for your health and safety that you help our staff complete this questionnaire to the best of your ability.

    What if I need help getting into the magnet?

    Our Stony Brook technologists will help you get into the right position for your study, and sure you are comfortable and safe. If you use a walker, wheelchair or crutches, you will not be able to bring them into the MRI suite. Why not? Because MRI scans are done by creating a very strong magnetic field, it is important to make sure that no metals affected by magnets are in the room. This means that no personal wheelchairs, walkers, oxygen tanks, or other equipment not specifically designed to function safely in a strong magnetic field is allowed. Only equipment compatible with the machines is allowed in our MRI suites.

    At Stony Brook, safety is our first concern. Remember, all doctors learn — “Primum non nocere,” or “first do no harm.” Our procedures and policies are reviewed by the Stony Brook Radiology Quality Committee, an integral working part of our department, which makes sure that our patients are safe with us.

    What if I have questions about whether MRI is safe for me, or safe for my family?

    We are here to help. For any questions relating to MRI or MRI safety, please contact us at (631) 449-9575.