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Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) uses radio frequency waves and a strong magnetic field rather than x-rays to provide remarkably clear and detailed pictures of internal organs and tissues. The technique has proven very valuable for the diagnosis of a broad range of pathologic conditions in all parts of the body, including cancer, heart and vascular disease, stroke, and joint and musculoskeletal disorders. MRI requires specialized equipment and expertise and allows evaluation of some body structures that may not be as visible with other imaging methods.
Some patients who undergo MRI in an enclosed unit may feel confined or claustrophobic. If you are not easily reassured, a sedative may be administered.
You will be placed on a sliding table and positioned comfortably for the MRI examination. Then the radiologist and technologist will leave the room and the individual MRI sequences are performed. You are able to communicate with the radiologist or technologist at any time using an intercom.
Depending on how many images are needed, the exam will generally take from 15 to 45 minutes, although a very detailed study may take longer. You will be asked not to move during the actual imaging process, but between sequences some movement is allowed. Patients are generally required to remain still for only a few seconds to a few minutes at a time.
Depending on the part of the body being examined, a contrast material may be used to enhance the visibility of certain tissues or blood vessels. A small needle connected to an intravenous line is placed in an arm or hand vein. A saline solution will drip through the intravenous line to prevent clotting until the contrast material is injected about two-thirds of the way through the exam.
When the exam is over the patient is asked to wait until the images are examined to determine if more images are needed. A radiologist experienced in MRI will analyze the images and send a report with his or her interpretation to your physician. This should take only a few days or less.