Feature article

Breaking the MRI Sound Barrier

For patients who are unfamiliar with MRI machines, preparing for the experience can sometimes cause anxiety. A quick online search can show you what the machine will look like, but it might not prepare the patient for the sound that the machine makes.

Conventional MRI technology sound can be loud. Studies show that at their loudest, an MRI scanner generates about 110 decibels of noise, which is about the same volume as a rock concert.  However, instead of producing rock music, an MRI scanner produces scanning sound that varies in pitch and intensity. Often the unexpected and unfamiliar sound can cause the patient to move during the scan, which can blur the final image.

The clinical component of reducing sound is critical to both a positive patient experience and to the clinician’s ability to properly interpret a scan. Fortunately, new technology exists that successfully addresses the issue.

What’s behind the sound?

Understanding the cause of the noise might make the experience less intimidating for patients.

An MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) machine makes noise only while the machine is obtaining an image.  Within an MRI scanner, there are large coiled wires called gradients that are used to create a magnetic field. During a scan, an electrical current runs through the coils, causing them to expand and make a loud clicking noise. The electric current is switched on and off rapidly throughout this process1, causing a noise like this: CLICK HERE

Why work towards removing noise from an MRI scan?

When a physician requests an MRI, they are in need of a highly detailed scan and the invaluable information that an MRI offers. However, every year many people refuse to have an MRI. According to research, one of the primary reasons for a patient refusing an MRI is claustrophobia or the fear of developing it.

One factor that contributes to a patient’s claustrophobia and apprehensions about the MRI experience is the noise that an MRI produces. Utilizing noise reduction technology can offer the following positive effects for both the patient and practitioner:

  • A quiet scan can decrease a patient’s stress level, helping them to be more relaxed and more likely to lie still during the scan.
  • Less patient movement in the scanner results in a better image for the physician to examine.
  • This results in reduced scan times and less need for rescans.
  • The patient is less likely to need sedatives; therefore, they will spend less time at the clinic and will save money.

Ultimately, it is in the best interest of both the patient and the clinician to provide a less noisy MRI experience.

What type of technology helps reduce sound during an MRI scan?

There is a variety of technology on the market that is aimed at reducing noise in an MRI. Many clinics offer headphones and ear plugs for patients to wear. To further ensure patient comfort, some manufacturers now use a process referred to as a “silent scan”, where noise reduction is achieved in two ways:

Acoustic Reduction Technology

Due to the materials and build of an MRI machine, the scanner’s acoustics naturally exacerbate the noise that it produces. Acoustic Reduction Technology helps quiet down the mechanical forces at work within the machine.

This technology employs the use of sound absorption material, such as tiling, acoustic caulking, and air duct lining, to make loud noises less disruptive and apparent. In other words, the noise is still there, but it is less noticeable to the patient.

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Silent Scanning

Silent Scanning is technology offered by multiple vendors that decreases MRI noise. This technique minimizes the loud clicking generated by switching on and off the electric current, while still resulting in high resolution scans.

The “silent scan” process isn’t used during every exam or on every MRI machine, but it is becoming very popular with pediatric, infant and elderly exams. 

Many physicians believe that the quieter scanning process results in fewer motion artifacts appearing in an image, and fewer patients need to be sedated.

Parents are pleased to learn that in some cases their child maynot need to undergo general anesthesia, and they can typically leave the clinic immediately after the scan is completed.

Even with the addition of the new noise reduction technologies, clinicians who work with MRI machines are confident in their report findings and the high-quality results of the scans.  

While it remains true that MRI machines generate loud sounds, new technologies exist to make the patient experience a more relaxed, comfortable, and positive one. In some cases patients who may not have been able to tolerate an MRI in the past may now do so comfortably.

Learn more about the latest noise reduction technologies. 

References

  1. THREE THINGS NO ONE TELLS YOU ABOUT YOUR MRI, Shields Health Care Grouphttp://info.shields.com/bid/91649/Three-things-no-one-tells-you-about-your-MRI, (accessed 25 June 2018)