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What Is an Open MRI? Everything You Need to Know Now

open mri

Data from 2005 through 2016 report an average of 5,338,000 car accidents each year in America. There are 139 million emergency room visits every year in the USA. Every seven seconds, a worker is injured on the job. An estimated 8,000 New Yorkers die a year due to an injury.

As you can tell, injuries and accidents occur all the time. After an injury occurs, what comes next? In most cases, doctors administer an MRI scan to determine the source and severity of an injury.

But what is that big tube patients disappear into during an MRI? And is there an alternative option?

Let’s explore what MRI scans are and how an open MRI might be the right alternative for you.

What Is an MRI Scan?

MRI stands for Magnetic Resonance Imaging. Around the world, there are an estimated 36,000 MRI machines in use, and 2,500 new scanners are produced every year. Japan has the highest number of MRI machines, with the United States right behind them.

An MRI scanner uses strong magnetic forces and radio waves to develop organ and tissue images. It allows a doctor to get a clear look at the insides of your body without surgery. MRIs are noninvasive and painless.

MRIs are a popular choice among patients because they do not use ionizing radiation. A typical scan takes about ten minutes, but sometimes they can last for two hours.

How MRIs Work

Three components allow an MRI to give doctors a glimpse into our bodies:

  • Magnetic fields
  • Radio waves
  • Computer imaging

A powerful magnet aligns the protons within our bodies. The radio waves ignite a magnetic current. This causes the protons to spin out of alignment.

Once the magnetic current stops, normal and healthy protons fall back into their regular positions. The protons that take longer to realign or appear abnormal reveal themselves in a highly detailed computer image. Doctors study the images to identify health problems or injuries.

During the MRI, the patient must remain still. Movement can disrupt the protons and prevent a clear computer image.

When MRIs Are Used

MRIs are used in different areas of the body to allow a doctor to create a diagnosis.

Functional MRIs evaluate brain activity. They measure blood flow between different areas of the brain. Doctors use this type of MRI to check for Alzheimer’s damage, tumors, strokes, and epilepsy.

Blood and heart MRIs check a patient for blocked or swollen blood vessels. The MRI can reveal damage following a heart attack or locate developing tumors. Heart MRIs allow doctors to discover problems within the heart’s walls, chambers, or the valve.

MRIs are also conducted on bones and joints. These MRIs scan for:

  • Infections and tumors
  • Damaged cartilage, ligaments, and tendons
  • Fractures
  • Arthritis
  • Herniated discs

For women with a high risk of developing breast cancer, breast MRIs may be performed. For women with cancer, the MRI can reveal the tumor’s size and spread. MRIs may be used after a woman has recovered from breast cancer to ensure it doesn’t return.

Although it isn’t common, MRIs may inspect a person’s liver, kidneys, pancreas, spleen, prostate gland, and ovaries.

What Is an Open MRI?

Traditional MRI scanners can be uncomfortable with their small, cylinder shape. Larger adults, children, and people suffering from claustrophobia often have difficulty with MRIs.

Open MRIs use innovative technology to create a more comfortable experience. A true open MRI is open on all four sides. Other types of open MRI machines may be open on two to three sides.

An open MRI gives a person plenty of breathing room, extra comfort, airflow, and allows them to see what’s going on around them. People who put off receiving an MRI due to anxiety may feel more comfortable receiving an open MRI.

What Happens During an Open MRI scan?

MRIs are noninvasive and don’t require you to prepare ahead of time. You can go about our daily routine as you normally would unless your doctor instructs you otherwise.

When you arrive for your open MRI, you might need to change into a hospital gown. You will need to remove anything that can alter the MRI’s magnetic imaging. This includes:

  • Hairpins
  • Watches
  • Wigs
  • Dentures
  • Hearing aids
  • Underwire bra
  • Jewelry and piercings
  • Glasses

During a traditional MRI, a patient lies down on a movable table that brings them into a long cylinder tube. During an open MRI, the patient will lay under an open scanner. An MRI technologist will monitor you throughout the MRI.

As you lie down and receive your scan, you won’t feel anything. You may hear repetitive tapping or thumping sounds from the magnet. Sometimes, patients will receive earplugs or listen to music during the scan.

In some cases, doctors will need to enhance the image the MRI provides. To do this, a patient may be injected with gadolinium in their arm or hand. The gadolinium is a chemical dye that helps specialists detect abnormalities in an MRI scan.

For most MRIs, you will need to lie down and be completely still. If you’re undergoing a functional MRI, you may need to perform simple tasks during your scan. This helps doctors observe how your brain is operating and detect problems.

After your MRI, unless you had to undergo sedation, you can return to your daily routine like normal. Specially trained radiologists will analyze your scan and discuss the results with you within a few days.

Who Qualifies for an Open MRI?

Open MRIs were designed to ease patients’ fears over receiving MRIs. In reality, MRI scans are quick and painless. But for some people, laying inside a cylinder tube is too much to handle.

An open MRI has a magnetic top and bottom, so it doesn’t need to have four sides. It’s designed for patients looking for alternatives to traditional MRI scanners.

Open MRIs are suitable for:

  • Larger or obese patients
  • Young children
  • Patients prone to anxiety and panic attacks
  • Patients with claustrophobia

While open MRIs are an excellent option for some patients, not everyone will qualify.

The MRI’s open shape can make it difficult to take images of certain areas of the body. Sometimes, the images are less detailed than those from a traditional MRI machine. Less magnetic fields lower the image quality, making it difficult for doctors to analyze and diagnose the results.

If you’re worried about receiving an MRI, the best thing to do is talk about options with your doctor. For people who need a traditional MRI, your doctor can give you sedatives or anti-anxiety medication before your scan to make the process easier.

Open MRI vs Traditional MRI

So what are the pros and cons of an open MRI? Let’s examine the differences between closed and open MRI machines.

Open MRI Pros

The shape is the most obvious difference when comparing open MRI and traditional MRI scanners. Traditional, or closed, MRIs have a cylinder shape while open MRIs have a magnetic top and bottom, with no sides.

Traditional MRIs have weight restrictions, but open MRIs do not. They can accommodate all shapes and sizes. Open MRI machines are ideal for people who are physically disabled or in a wheelchair.

With fewer magnetic fields, an open MRI is often quieter than a traditional MRI. Less noise helps people with anxiety feel at-ease while undergoing their scan.

Children who don’t respond well to laying down alone in an enclosed space find it easier to undergo an open MRI.

Many open MRI systems allow techs to tilt them. This way, you can receive an MRI in a standing position, as opposed to lying flat during a traditional MRI. The tilting feature also makes it easier for diagnosing back problems or spinal injuries.

For patients who have metal implants in their bodies from previous surgeries, open MRIs can capture a clearer image. Open MRI scanners have fewer magnetic fields, which produce fewer artifacts from metallic objects as compared to a closed MRI scan.

Many times, patients who are anxious or suffer from claustrophobia require sedatives or anti-anxiety medication before a closed MRI. Most people who undergo an open MRI do not need drugs, making the process faster without any disruptions to your schedule.

Open MRI Cons

Open MRI scanners work the same way as traditional machines in that they both produce medical images. The two open magnetic discs alter protons in the body and create images for doctors to analyze. But open MRI machines have weaker magnetic fields. In some cases, the images are not as detailed as the ones produced by traditional MRIs.

On the other hand, open MRIs are not ideal for all body types. The shape of the open MRI can’t take detailed images of particular body parts. If they do, these images are not as high of quality as the ones traditional MRIs generate. In some cases, traditional MRIs are the only option.

Closed MRIs surround a person with a high-powered magnet on all sides. Therefore, they crease images fast. Open MRIs can take longer to scan a targeted area and produce an image.

Overall, MRIs are vital pieces of medical technology. Closed MRI scans are the most accurate, but they are not made for everyone. If you have an injury, discuss your MRI options with your doctor. Open MRIs are excellent alternatives for those who feel weary about entering an enclosed tube.

Open MRIs and Children

If a child needs an MRI, an open MRI is usually the best choice.

Children feel much more comfortable in an open MRI compared to a closed scanner. An open MRI offers more space and better comfort for the child. Throughout the process, a technician can stay close to the child and assure him or her that everything will be okay.

Children may receive an MRI for:

  • Brain injuries
  • Bone density tets
  • Stress test
  • Detect autoimmune disease
  • Evaluate chronic problems such as blurry vision or seizures
  • Assess developmental delays
  • Inspect blood flow to the heart
  • Examine complex fractures
  • Detect bone cancer

Any child receiving an open MRI should be informed that the MRI will not hurt. While the child has to be very still, it’s easier for them to feel comfortable and not move in an open MRI as opposed to a traditional one.

Other Types of MRI Machines

Like the open MRI, there are other types of scanners that differ from a traditional MRI machine.

Extremity MRI

An extremity MRI machine is used for diagnosing a person’s arms, legs, hands, and feet. The scanner operates similarly to a traditional MRI. The biggest difference is the patient sits in a chair, with only one body part inserted into the machine.

Extremity MRIs are used to detect:

  1. Nerve damage
  2. Tumors
  3. Fractures
  4. Degenerative joint diseases
  5. Bone infections

An extremity MRI takes up to 90 minutes to complete. During the exam, you must remove all jewelry to prevent interrupting the machine. Once the extremity MRI is done, you can return to your normal routine.

Tesla MRI

Tesla MRI machines are extra-powerful MRIs. They are closed scanners with double magnetic strength.  The extra magnetic fields allow for faster and more detailed images to be produced.

A Tesla MRI is used for detecting strokes, tumors, cardiovascular blockages, arthritis, and disc disease. It analyzes internal organs such as a person’s liver, uterus, prostate, and ovaries.

Are You in Need of an MRI?

It’s understandable when an accident or injury occurs. But how you handle the injury is essential. Inadequate injury recovery today can lead to severe medical complications tomorrow.

If you’re nervous about receiving a traditional MRI, an open MRI may be the alternative solution you’re looking for. An open MRI is not confining or stressful. It’s more comfortable and better for different body shapes compared to a closed MRI.

New Yorkers who were recently injured due to a work-related or an auto accident need to speak to the right doctor to get on the right path to treatment. Let us help you get in touch with a top board-certified New York doctors. MRI scans are covered by most major medical plans, worker’s compensation, PIP, and no-fault insurance.

Call 1-800-897-8440 to find an experienced doctor near you now.


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