Feature article

When Is An MRI Used?

An MRI is used to help your doctor diagnose a disease or an injury, or to monitor how well you are progressing in various treatments.

In some instances, MRIs can provide more detail for certain types of body tissues and in certain conditions than other imaging technology.

Understanding more about when an MRI is used is beneficial for both medical professionals and patients. 

To gain an in-depth insight into your body

While an X-ray allows your medical team to see hard tissues, such as diagnosing when a bone is broken for example, MRIs are often used to take a more detailed look inside the body in order to assess concerns such as:

  • Possible tumors in the brain, breast, liver, kidney, prostate, ovaries, or pancreas
  • Finding soft tissue injuries, such as those affecting ligaments and tendons
  • Examining internal organs
  • Imaging the brain, breasts and spinal cord

MRIs to detect certain conditions

Thanks to their accuracy, MRIs can be useful for diagnosing various conditions. Some common reasons why doctors prescribe an MRI include:

  • Stroke
  • Blocked blood vessels
  • Blood vessel damage
  • Brain injuries
  • Cancer
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Damage caused by a heart attack
  • Heart disease and problems with the structures of the heart
  • Bone infections
  • Joint damage
  • Spine abnormalities

The detail in an MRI image may allow your physician to deliver better treatments that are tailored for each patient. 

When a patient receives a cancer diagnosis, MRI images can provide detailed information to inform treatment plans by understanding:

  • The size and stage of the tumor
  • Whether the tumor has spread
  • How much, if any, of the tumor remains following a removal

A Functional MRI (fMRI) may be used to map brain activity or blood flow in the brain due to stroke, epilepsy, brain tumors, to map blood flow in the brain prior to brain surgery, or for medical research purposes.

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When radiation isn't a safe option

From those who are very young to pregnant women, there are lots of circumstances where radiation isn't a safe option. In such cases, an MRI may not always be appropriate, but there's a high chance it's a safer option.

MRIs prove useful when other forms of imaging don't work

While MRIs are not always the right choice, MRIs focus on a combination of magnetic fields, powerful pulses, and advanced software to obtain detailed images from all areas of the body. By interacting with the billions of hydrogen ions that exist inside each person, MRIs produce images with lots of detail.

Because of this detail, when a medical professional knows they might struggle to find abnormal tissue with CT and X-rays alone, they'll turn to an MRI. Or, if a patient is still displaying clinical signs, and other types of imaging fail to reveal the reason for those symptoms, MRIs are another avenue for gaining a diagnosis.

For surgical guidance

Although surgeons can use ultrasounds and laparoscopic cameras for many procedures, sometimes an MRI is necessary to provide a look inside the body prior to surgery and to obtain greater accuracy for various surgical procedures.

For example, if an oncologist suspects that their patient has a very fine type of breast tumor, they might request an MRI-guided biopsy. MRI-guided procedures also prove particularly useful in certain areas of medicine, such as urology.

For both patients and medical professionals, MRIs can serve as an invaluable means of delivering detailed medical images to help diagnose and treat various conditions. As with any medical procedure, we recommend you discuss any questions or concerns you may have about your MRI procedure with your doctor.