Magnetic Resonance Imaging

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or nuclear magnetic resonance imaging (NMRI), is primarily a medical imaging technique most commonly used in radiology to visualize the structure and function of the body. It provides detailed images of the body in any plane.

Features of MRI

1. MRI provides much greater contrast between the different soft tissues of the body than computed tomography (CT) does, making it especially useful in neurological (brain), musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, and oncological (cancer) imaging.

2. Unlike CT, it uses no ionizing radiation, but uses a powerful magnetic field to align the nuclear magnetization of (usually) hydrogen atoms in water in the body.

3. Radio frequency fields are used to systematically alter the alignment of this magnetization, causing the hydrogen nuclei to produce a rotating magnetic field detectable by the scanner. This signal can be manipulated by additional magnetic fields to build up enough information to construct an image of the body.

MRI Scanner


The body is mainly composed of water molecules each containing two hydrogen nuclei or protons. When a person goes inside the powerful magnetic field of the scanner, these protons align with the direction of the field.

A second radio frequency electromagnetic field is then briefly turned on causing the protons to absorb some of its energy. When this field is turned off the protons release this energy at a radiofrequency which can be detected by the scanner. The position of protons in the body can be determined by applying additional magnetic fields during the scan which allows an image of the body to be built up. These are created by turning gradients coils on and off which creates the knocking sounds heard during an MR scan.

MRI Technology

Diseased tissue, such as tumors, can be detected because the protons in different tissues return to their equilibrium state at different rates. By changing the parameters on the scanner, this effect can be used to create contrast between different types of body tissue.

Contrast agents may be injected intravenously to enhance the appearance of blood vessels, tumors or inflammation. Contrast agents may also be directly injected into a joint, in the case of arthrograms, MR images of joints. Unlike CT scanning MRI uses no ionizing radiation and is generally a very safe procedure. Patients with some metal implants, cochlear implants, and cardiac pacemakers are prevented from having an MRI scan due to effects of the strong magnetic field and powerful radiofrequency pulses.

MRI Image of Brain

Applications of MRI

In clinical practice, MRI is used to distinguish pathologic tissue (such as a brain tumor) from normal tissue. One advantage of an MRI scan is that it is harmless to the patient. It uses strong magnetic fields and non-ionizing radiation in the radio frequency range. Compare this to CT scans and traditional X-rays which involve doses of ionizing radiation and may increase the risk of malignancy, especially in a fetus.
The typical MRI examination consists of 5-20 sequences, each of which is chosen to provide a particular type of information about the subject tissues. This information is then synthesized by the interpreting physician.

Functional MRI – fMRI

Functional MRI or functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) is a type of specialized MRI scan. It measures the hemodynamic response related to neural activity in the brain or spinal cord of humans or other animals. It is one of the most recently developed forms of neuroimaging. Since the early 1990s, fMRI has come to dominate the brain mapping field due to its low invasiveness, lack of radiation exposure, and relatively wide availability.

fMRI image of Brain

Article in Word format – Print
Magnetic resonance imaging


Comments are closed.