Rashmi Karan
Manager - Content
Updated on Oct 3, 2023 11:59 IST

Discover the full form of MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) and unravel the fascinating technology behind this advanced medical imaging technique. Understand how magnetic fields and radio waves combine to produce detailed images of the human body.


MRI Full Form

The full form of MRI is Magnetic Resonance Imaging.

M – Magnetic 

R – Resonance 

I – Imaging

What is MRI?

MRI is a non-invasive imaging technology. It generates detailed three-dimensional anatomical images without harmful radiation. MRI is frequently used for disease detection, diagnosis, and treatment monitoring. 

MRI is based on sophisticated technology that stimulates and detects the change in the direction of the axis of rotation of protons found in the water that makes up living tissue.

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How Does MRI Work?

MRI uses powerful magnets that produce a powerful magnetic field that forces protons in the body to align with that field. A radiofrequency current is then pulsed through a patient. It stimulates protons and spins them out of balance, fighting against the force of the magnetic field. 

When the radio frequency field is turned off, MRI sensors detect the energy released with the realignment of protons with the magnetic field. 

The molecules’ environment and chemical nature can change the time the protons take to realign with the magnetic field and the amount of energy released. Physicians can identify the difference between various types of tissue based on these magnetic properties.

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MRI Process

  1. The MRI process begins by placing the patient inside an MRI machine containing a powerful magnet. The magnet creates a strong magnetic field, which aligns the hydrogen atoms (protons) in the body’s tissues.
  2. Once the protons are aligned, a radiofrequency pulse is emitted.
  3. After the radiofrequency pulse is turned off, the protons gradually return to their aligned state, emitting the absorbed energy as radio waves. 
  4. Specialized coils within the MRI machine pick these signals, detect the radio waves emitted by the protons, and send them to a computer. 
  5. The computer processes the signals and generates detailed images based on the differences in the behaviour of the protons in various tissues.
  6. The received signals are used to reconstruct cross-sectional images of the body.  
  7. Sometimes, a contrast agent containing paramagnetic or superparamagnetic substances is administered intravenously to enhance the visibility of certain structures or abnormalities. This contrast agent affects the behaviour of protons, leading to enhanced image contrast.
  8. A radiologist/medical professional analyzes and interprets the generated images to make a diagnosis or evaluate the patient’s condition.

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MRI Applications

MRI (full form – Magnetic Resonance Imaging) is used in the diagnostic study of –

  • Neurological Disorders:
    • Brain tumours
    • Multiple sclerosis
    • Brain Stroke
    • Alzheimer’s disease
    • Parkinson’s disease
    • Spinal cord injuries
    • Brain and spinal cord abnormalities
  • Musculoskeletal Conditions:
    • Joint injuries 
    • Ligament and tendon tears
    • Bone fractures
    • Arthritis
    • Herniated discs
    • Soft tissue tumors
    • Sports-related injuries
  • Cardiovascular Conditions:
    • Heart abnormalities
    • Congenital heart defects
    • Cardiac tumours
    • Heart valve problems
    • Aortic aneurysms
    • Pericardial diseases
  • Abdominal and Pelvic Disorders:
    • Liver, kidney, and pancreas tumours
    • Abdominal aortic aneurysms
    • Gastrointestinal conditions
    • Female reproductive system disorders (e.g., ovarian cysts, uterine fibroids)
    • Prostate abnormalities
  • Breast Imaging:
    • Breast cancer screening and diagnosis
    • Detection of breast lesions or tumours
    • Evaluation of breast implants
  • Head and Neck Conditions:
    • Sinus and nasal disorders
    • Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders
    • Oral and throat tumours
    • Salivary gland diseases
  • Pediatric Conditions:
    • Congenital abnormalities
    • Developmental disorders
    • Pediatric brain and spinal cord disorders
  • Other Applications:
    • Soft tissue imaging (e.g., muscles, tendons, ligaments)
    • Lymph node evaluation
    • Vascular abnormalities
    • Oncological imaging (e.g., tumor staging, treatment response assessment)

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Risks Associated with MRI

Although MRI does not emit the harmful ionizing radiation found in X-ray and CT imaging techniques, it does use a strong magnetic field. The magnetic field extends beyond the machine and exerts powerful forces on iron, steel, and other magnetizable objects. Such energy is strong enough to launch a wheelchair across the room. Patients should notify their doctors of any medical conditions or implants they have before an MRI scan. 

Some viable risks associated with MRI include –  

Implants: People with implants, particularly those containing iron pacemakers, vagus nerve stimulators, implantable cardioverter-defibrillators, subcutaneous cardiac monitors, insulin pumps, cochlear implants, deep brain stimulators, and capsule endoscopy should not enter an MRI machine.

You must notify your radiologist if you are a carrier of the following:

  • Pacemaker 
  • Brain Clips
  • Metallic plates
  • Bone Screws
  • Metal staples or sutures
  • Metallic implants
  • Neurostimulators
  • Insulin pumps
  • Eye shrapnel
  • Cochlear implants
  • Joint prostheses
  • Earphones 
  • Dental implants or dentures,
  • Tattoos or piercing
  • or any other object that may interfere with the study and put your health at risk

Noise: Loud noise, commonly called clicks and beeps, and sound intensity up to 120 decibels in certain MRI scanners may require special hearing protection.

Nerve Stimulation: Sometimes, a twitching sensation occurs because the radiofrequency energy used during the MRI scan can heat the body.

Medicine Allergy – Special care must be taken in patients who have previously had reactions to medications, allergies or serious illnesses.

Pregnancy: Although no effects on the fetus have been shown, expecting mothers are recommended to avoid MRI scans as a precaution.

Claustrophobia: People with even mild claustrophobia may find tolerating long scan times inside the machine difficult. Familiarization with the machine and the process and visualization, sedation, and anaesthesia techniques provide patients with mechanisms to overcome discomfort. 

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How does MRI work?

MRI works by utilizing strong magnetic fields and radio waves to create detailed images of the body's internal structures.

What is the purpose of an MRI scan?

The purpose of an MRI scan is to obtain detailed images that aid in diagnosing and evaluating various medical conditions.

Is an MRI scan safe?

MRI scans are generally considered safe as they do not involve ionizing radiation like X-rays or CT scans.

How long does an MRI scan take?

The duration of an MRI scan varies depending on the area being imaged and the specific protocol, but it typically ranges from 15 minutes to an hour.

Is the MRI scanning process uncomfortable?

The MRI scanning process is generally painless. However, some people may experience claustrophobia or discomfort due to the confined space of the MRI machine. Open MRI machines are available for individuals who may feel claustrophobic.

Do I need to prepare for an MRI scan?

Yes, some preparation may be necessary. This typically involves removing metal objects, wearing comfortable clothing without metal, and following specific fasting or medication intake instructions, if applicable.

About the Author
Rashmi Karan
Manager - Content

Rashmi is a postgraduate in Biotechnology with a flair for research-oriented work and has an experience of over 13 years in content creation and social media handling. She has a diversified writing portfolio and aim... Read Full Bio