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What is MRI? 

Magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, uses a powerful field magnet and radio waves to provide clear and detailed diagnostic images of internal body organs and tissues. MRI is a valuable tool for the diagnosis of a broad range of conditions, including:

  • cancer 
  • heart and vascular disease 
  • stroke 
  • joint and musculoskeletal disorders 

MRI allows evaluation of some body structures that may not be as visible with other diagnostic imaging methods.
What are some common uses of MRI?

Imaging of the Musculoskeletal System : MRI is often used to study the knee, ankle, foot, shoulder, elbow, wrist, and hand. MRI is also a highly accurate method for evaluation of soft tissue structures such as tendons and ligaments, which are seen in great detail. Even subtle injuries are easily detected. In addition, MRI is used for the diagnosis of spinal problems including disc herniation, spinal stenosis, and spinal tumors.

Imaging of the Vascular System: Magnetic resonance angiography (MRA) generates pictures of the arteries to evaluate them for stenosis (abnormal narrowing) or aneurysms (vessel wall dilatations, at risk of rupture). MRA is often used to evaluate the arteries of the neck and brain, thr thoracic and abdominal aorta, the renal arteries, and the legs (called a "run-off").  Magnetic resonance venography (MRV) is a similar procedure that is used to image veins.

Imaging for Cancer & Functional Disorders: Organs of the chest and abdomen such as the liver, lungs, kidney, and other abdominal organs can be examined in great detail with MRI. This aids in the diagnosis and evaluation of tumors and functional disorders. In the early diagnosis of breast cancer, MRI is an alternative to traditional x-ray mammography. Furthermore because there is no radiation exposure is involved, MRI is often used for examination of the male and female reproductive systems.

Imaging of the Brain: MRI can detect a variety of conditions of the brain such as cysts, tumors, bleeding, swelling, developmental and structural abnormalities, infections, inflammatory conditions, or problems with the blood vessels. It can detect damage to the brain caused by an injury or a stroke. MRI of the brain can also be useful in evaluating problems such as persistent headaches, dizziness, weakness, and blurry vision or seizures, and it can help to detect certain chronic disease of the nervous system, such as multiple sclerosis. In some cases, MRI can provide clear images of parts of the brain that can't be seen as well with an X-ray, CAT scan, or ultrasound, making in particularly valuable for diagnosing problems with the pituary gland and brain stem.

How should I prepare for an MRI?

  • Before your MRI exam, remove all accessories including hair pins, jewelry, eyeglasses, hearing aids, wigs, dentures.  During the exam, these metal objects may interfere with the magnetic field, affecting the quality of the MRI images taken. 
  • Notify your technologist if you have: 
- any prosthetic joints – hip, knee 
- a heart pacemaker (or artificial heart valve), defibrillator or artificial heart value 
- an intrauterine device (IUD), 
- any metal plates, pins, screws, or surgical staples in your body. 
- tattoos and permanent make-up. 
- a bullet or shrapnel in your body, or ever worked with metal. 
- if you might be pregnant or suspect you may be pregnant. 
- if you are claustrophobic. Some patients who undergo MRI in an enclosed unit
  may feel confined. If you are not easily reassured, a sedative may be 

What should I expect during this procedure?

Depending on how many images are needed, the exam generally takes 15 to 45 minutes. However, very detailed studies may take longer. 

  • You must lie down on a sliding table and be comfortably positioned. 
  • Even though the technologist must leave the room, you will be able to communicate with them at any time using an intercom. 
  • If necessary, many MRI centers allow a friend or family member to stay in the room with you during the exam.  
  • You will be asked remain still during the actual imaging process. However, between sequences, which last between 2-15 minutes, slight movement is allowed. 
  • 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 is placed in your arm or hand vein and a saline solution IV drip will run through the intravenous line to prevent clotting. About two-thirds of the way through the exam, the contrast material is injected. 

What will I experience during an MRI?

  • MRI is painless. 
  • Some claustrophobic patients may experience a "closed in" feeling. If this is a concern, a sedative may be administered. Also, newer open MRI machines have helped to alleviate this reaction. 
  • You will hear loud tapping or thumping during the exam. Earplugs or earphones may be provided to you by the MRI center. 
  • You may feel warmth in the area being examined. This is normal. 
  • If a contrast injection is needed, there may be some discomfort at the injection site. You may also feel a cool sensation at the site during the injection.