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Magnetic Resonance Imaging Services at Palomar Health

What is a MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging)?

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is one of the safest imaging techniques available. It combines a powerful magnet with an advanced computer system and radio waves to produce accurate, detailed pictures of organs and tissues in order to diagnose a number of medical conditions.

Common uses of this procedure

MRI can give very clear pictures of soft-tissue structures near and around bones. It is the most sensitive exam for spinal and joint problems. MRI is widely used to diagnose sports-related injuries, especially those affecting the knee, shoulder, hip and elbow. The images allow the physician to see very small tears and injuries to ligaments and muscles.

How does it work?

MRI is a unique imaging method because, unlike radiographs, it does not rely on ionizing radiation. Instead, radio waves are directed at protons, the nuclei of hydrogen atoms, in a strong magnetic field. The protons are first "excited" and then "relaxed," emitting radio signals, which can be computer-processed to form an image. In the body, protons are most abundant in the hydrogen atoms of water - the "H" of H20 - so that an MRI image shows differences in the water content and distribution in various body tissues. Different types of tissue within the same organ, such as the gray and white matter of the brain, can easily be distinguished. Typically, an MRI exam consists of two to six imaging sequences each lasting 2-15 minutes. Each sequence has its own degree of contrast and shows a cross section of the body in one of several planes (right to left, front to back, upper to lower).

What should I expect?

You will be placed on a MRI bed and positioned comfortably for the MRI examination. The technologist leaves the room and the individual MRI sequences are performed. The patient is able to communicate with the technologist at any time using an intercom. Depending on how many images are needed, the exam will generally take 15-45 minutes. You will be asked not to move during the actual imaging process, but between sequences some movement is allowed. Loud tapping or knocking noises will be heard at certain phases of imaging.

Patient Preparation

Our MRI staff will ask whether you have a prosthetic hip, pacemaker or any metal plates, pins, screws, or surgical staples in your body. In most cases, staples, pins and screws pose no risk during MRI if they have been in place for more than 4-6 weeks. You will be asked if you have ever worked with metal or had a bullet or shrapnel in your body. You may also be asked if you have any tattoo's and if they have any metal in them, such as permanent eye liners. If there is any question of metal fragments, you may be asked to have an x-ray that will detect any such objects. You will also be asked to remove hairpins, jewelry, eyeglasses, hearing aids, and removable dental work. We kindly ask you that you wear as little metal as possible on your scheduled exam day. Please come in 1/2 hour before your appointment time to fill out MR screening form, general consent form and contrast consent form. You will be brought back to the patient care area to change. The MRI technologist will explain the exam, ask pertinent clinical information and set up an IV if necessary. You will get on the MRI bed at your appointment time. We suggest wearing elastic waistband pants and that women wear a sports bra.

Exam Results

Your exam will be read and a report will be phoned, faxed or mailed to your physician promptly. He/she will share the results with you.