Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a procedure in which a magnet linked to a computer is used to create detailed pictures of areas inside the body. The electromagnetic energy that is released when exposing a patient to radiofrequency waves in a strong magnetic field is measured and analyzed by a computer, which forms two- or three-dimensional images that are viewed on a TV monitor.
MRI is a non-invasive way of viewing organs, soft tissues, bone and virtually all other internal body structures. Because it can give such clear pictures of soft-tissue structures near and around bones, it is the most sensitive exam for spinal and joint problems. MRI is widely used to diagnose sports-related injuries, especially those affecting the knee, shoulder, hip, elbow and wrist. The images allow physicians to see even very small tears and injuries to ligaments and muscles.
In addition, MRI of the heart, aorta, coronary arteries and blood vessels is a fast, non-invasive tool for diagnosing coronary artery disease and heart problems. Physicians can examine the size and thickness of the chambers of the heart and determine the extent of damage caused by a heart attack or progressive heart disease.
Organs of the chest and abdomen – including the lungs, liver, kidney, spleen, pancreas and abdominal vessels – can also be examined in high detail with MRI, enabling the diagnosis and evaluation of tumors and functional disorders. MRI is growing in popularity as an alternative to traditional x-ray mammography in the early diagnosis of breast cancer. Because no radiation exposure is involved, MRI is often the preferred diagnostic tool for examination of the male and female reproductive systems, pelvis and hips and the bladder.
MRI is the most sensitive exam for brain tumors, strokes and certain chronic disorders of the nervous system such as multiple sclerosis. In addition, it is a useful means of documenting brain abnormalities in patients with dementia and it is commonly used for patients with disease of the pituitary gland. MRI can detect tiny areas of tissue abnormality in patients with disease of the eyes or the inner ear.
MR angiography (MRA) is an MRI study of the blood vessels. It utilizes MRI technology to detect, diagnose and aid the treatment of heart disorders, stroke, and blood vessel diseases. MRA provides detailed images of blood vessels without using any contrast material, although a special form of contrast material is often given to make the MRI images even clearer. The procedure is painless, and the magnetic field is not known to cause tissue damage of any kind.
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