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Understanding uses, types of MRIs

Jul 29, 2021

St. Joseph’s/Candler adds the highest field strength open MRI in existence to its arsenal of imaging tools

If your doctor refers you for an MRI, it could be in the traditional sense – a scan of one of your organs, joints or an area of tissue.

But MRI machines do a lot more than that, and with advancements in technology, these machines have become more patient-friendly, which is good news for those who suffer from claustrophobia or if your child needs an MRI.

“We have expanded our resources,” says Dr. Carlos Rivera, a radiologist at St. Joseph’s/Candler and president of Outpatient Imaging Services, LLC.  “But when you come for your MRI, you’re not just getting in a machine. As a patient you are becoming part of an integrated system of care. No more need to carry studies on discs or log into multiple different websites to retrieve old and new studies.”

Dr. Carlos Rivera

About MRIs

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is a non-invasive scan that produces images of the body using radio waves in a high magnetic field, explains Dr. Rivera. Unlike x-rays and other diagnostic tools, there’s no radiation in the traditional use of the word with MRI.

The best known use of MRI produces images of the brain, joints, spine, abdominal organs, such as the liver, kidneys and pancreas, and pelvic organs, such as the uterus or prostate gland.

“The most common indications currently evaluated on a routine basis include neurological disorders, such as Multiple Sclerosis, stroke, cognitive disorders and movement disorders; spinal applications, such as degenerative disc disease or stenosis; joints, such as knees, shoulders and hips; and just about any soft tissue organ,” Dr. Rivera says.

Related Article: What to expect during an MRI

Different uses for MRI

In addition to traditional MRI, Magnetic Resonance equipment can help physicians on multiple fronts, Dr. Rivera says. Let’s look at a few examples:

  • Diffusion Weighted Imaging (DWI) is a technique used to obtain valuable information about strokes, brain tumors and other so-called “functional” data that goes beyond visualization of tissues and into the realm of tissue function and viability. For example, this technique can be used to determine whether a portion of the brain that has suffered from temporary lack of blood is likely to survive or not.
  • Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI) is another technique this time visualizing neural pathways, such as the location of connections between the portions of the brain in charge of movement of our body and a tumor or other growth being evaluated for surgical removal. This method can help locate the major connection pathways prior to surgery.
  • Magnetic Resonance Angiography (MRA) produces images of the patient’s circulatory system, such as vessels supplying the brain, kidneys, legs and other body parts.

Related Article: When would I need a breast MRI exam?

Different machines for MRI

As more and more uses for MRIs come about, advancements in the equipment are also taking place. At St. Joseph’s/Candler, we have a wide variety of MRI machines to accommodate a wide variety of patients.

We offer MRI scans at St. Joseph’s Hospital, Candler Hospital and our Pooler and Bluffton outpatient imaging centers. At St. Joseph’s Hospital, we offer 3T High-Field MRI, which is the most powerful magnet in the surrounding region. It has MRI, DWI and DTI capabilities described above, just to name a few, Dr Rivera says. Candler Hospital and SJ/C Imaging Center - Pooler also offer complimentary technology in an oval magnet providing a 1.5T High-Field Wide Bore (the opening where the patient is placed for the scan).

We recently added the Oasis High-Field Open MRI System (pictured right) at our SJ/C Imaging Center – Bluffton. It is an open MRI with a 1.2T superconducting magnet, the highest field strength open MRI in existence. The Oasis open MRI was specifically designed to help certain patients who’ve had trouble with MRI machines in the past. For example:

  • For claustrophobic patients – the open architecture provides a 270-degree unobstructed view
  • For larger patients – the space is designed to provide comfort in any position, and has a 660-pound weight limit
  • For children – A parent or loved one can be right beside the child for the entire scan
  • For the elderly – The easy access of the design makes it a stress-free experience

“These features make a huge difference for patients that cannot be scanned in a traditional MRI, of which there is a significant number,” Dr. Rivera says. “I’m also excited about the quality of the images we can get with this open MRI.  It is similar to what we see with the 1.5T magnet in most traditional MRI machines.”

If your doctor refers you for an MRI, be sure to talk about your options. There are cases where the specific scan or study determines which unit is best suited for you, Dr. Rivera says. However, for the majority of cases, flexibility and patient convenience are important goals, Dr. Rivera says.

“All of our scanners produce excellent quality studies so patients and referring physicians may choose a specific unit in our system based on factors such as proximity to their homes, Open configuration or other factors.”

All are safe and effective

Whichever scan or study you need and whichever machine you are referred to you can trust all are safe and effective at producing high quality images.

Before you even get near an MRI machine, you will be screened for specific implanted devices, such as a pacemaker, metal foreign objects, such as piercings or even a bobby pin in your hair, and other situations that would preclude the scan or require further investigation by the physician, Dr. Rivera says.

“Patient safety is paramount to all,” Dr. Rivera says. 

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