What is an MRI ?

What is an MRI – Uses, application, history, relevance in medical science

A Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) uses a strong magnetic field and radio waves to create a detailed image of the organs and tissues within the body. The development of MRI has revolutionized the field of medicine. MRI is a non-invasive and painless procedure. A giant circular magnet surrounds the MRI scanner tube. The magnet creates a strong magnetic field that aligns the protons of hydrogen atoms, which are then exposed to a beam of radio waves. The various protons of the body start spinning because of this and produce a faint signal that is detected by the receiver portion of the MRI scanner. The received information is then processed by a computer to produce an image.

The development of the MRI scanner includes the work of many researchers that contributed towards the discovery of nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR). The early research on the physics of magnetic resonance imaging started in the early 20th century. MR imaging was invented by Paul C. Lauterbur. He developed a mechanism to encode spatial information into an NMR signal using magnetic field gradients in September 1917. In the late 1970s and 1980s Peter Mansfield further refined the techniques used in MR image acquisition and processing.

MRI scanning is used to evaluate organs of the chest and abdomen including heart, liver, biliary tract, kidneys, spleen, pancreas, and adrenal glands, pelvic organs including the bladder and the reproductive organs such as the uterus and ovaries in females and the prostate glands in the males. MR angiography can also be done to detect abnormalities in the blood vessels with the help of an MRI scanner. Conditions such as tumors, cirrhosis, abnormalities of the bile ducts and pancreas, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, heart problems and congenital heart problems, a fetus can be examined to diagnose or monitor treatment. Anomalies of the brain, joints, back knees, and spinal cord, breast cancer, fibroids and endometriosis, uterine problems and infertility in women can also be accurately diagnosed with the help of an MRI scan.

Some of the side-effects of MRI are headaches, nausea, pain or burning at the point of injection that arises from the contrast dye. Allergy to the contrast is also seen in a few people that can cause hives and itchiness. Claustrophobia may also be experienced by people who are uncomfortable in closed spaces.

MRI technology is always expanding in scope and use. Scientists are developing newer MRI scanners that are smaller, portable devices. They can be useful for detecting infections and tumors of the soft tissues of the hands, feet, elbows and knees. These new applications of MRI scanners are being medically tested.

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