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An MRI Scan: How safe is it really?

What are the most common MRI injuries or issues that come up, and what should you do to ensure the safety of your patients

Sites like Quora and Yahoo Answers are great places to find experts on radiology. Recently, we answered a question on Quora regarding the safety of MRI. It seems to be a common question that’s asked, and while the easy answer on MRI safety is “relatively safe due to MRI’s lack of radiation”, it’s a bit more complicated than that. While MRI is relatively safe, there are some risks that need to be taken into consideration before an MRI scan.

What are the most common MRI injuries or issues that come up, and what should you do to ensure the safety of your patients before their scan?

  • According to the FDA website, “The use of gadolinium-based contrast agents (GBCAs) also carries some risk, including side effects such as allergic reactions to the contrast agent. See GBCAs for more information.”
  • The inside of the MRI scanner can cause claustrophobia for some, though an Open MRI may be an option if this is a worry. Patients should discuss with their physician to decide which MRI option would be best for them. Patients can also be prescribed medication to make the process more bearable.
  • Since the MRI machine uses a giant magnet, any magnetic object from keys, jewelry, cell phones, etc., could turn into a projectile. Patients must take extra precaution and be carefully screened before entering the MR room because of this danger.
  • Proper ear protection should be used, as the magnetic fields in the MRI creates loud noise and may also “cause peripheral muscle or nerve stimulation that may feel like a twitching sensation.”

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  • During longer MRI examinations, there may sometimes be a concern over radiofrequency energy heating the body.
  • Implanted devices may become a safety hazard for MRI. For patients with pacemakers, artificial joints, stents, or cochlear implants, they should not receive an MRI scan unless they speak with their doctor and know the device is MR Safe. “An MR Safe device is nonmagnetic, contains no metal, does not conduct electricity and poses no known hazards in all MR environments. An MR Conditional device may be used safely only within an MR environment that matches its conditions of safe use. Any device with an unknown MRI safety status should be assumed to be MR Unsafe.”
  • Other medical devices such as external ones like leg braces or insulin pumps, and accessory devices such as ventilators or patient monitors, may malfunction, degrade the quality of the MRI image, or burn patients due to radiorequency energy; meaning it’s best to discuss specific medical devices with ones doctor before having an MRI scan.

While millions of MRI scans are performed each year, adverse events for MRI are rare. The FDA reported they receive around 300 adverse event reports each year regarding MRI machines, and most reports detail heating/burns, projectile items, pinched fingers from the patient table, patient falls, or hearing loss.

Going over contrast agents, claustrophobia concerns, ear protection, screening for objects that might become projectiles, and any medical devices your patient has will ensure the MRI process will be a smooth experience that’s beneficial to all. If you would like to discuss MRI’s in more detail, feel free to contact one of our trained MRI experts here. We also wrote a helpful guide a few years ago on implementing MRI safety practices in your facility, which you can read here.

Sources: 1.) FDA Website: MRI Benefits and Risks


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