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Standard MRIs vs. Open MRIs: What's the Difference?

Doctors are sometimes unable to diagnose a condition until they perform an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging). An MRI is a noninvasive medical test that uses a magnetic field and radio waves to create detailed pictures of the inside of your body. These imaging systems can reveal tissues, bones, and joints that can't be seen with x-rays, CT scans, or ultrasounds. 

Once a patient is completely inserted into an MRI machine, the machine creates a strong magnetic field that encompasses them. The machine then sends radio waves, which alter the position of the nuclei within the person's atoms. As these atoms begin to realign themselves, they send out other radio signals. A computer receives these signals and converts them to an image.

Standard MRI Machines
During a standard MRI process, the patient lies on a movable table that slides into the machine's circular opening. Once the patient is inside a standard MRI machine, the only opening is at their feet. This concept is extremely problematic for patients who suffer from claustrophobia or obesity. A standard MRI machine requires the patient to remain very still for the extent of the process which can take 45-60 minutes. This can be difficult if a patient is feeling overwhelmed or anxious about the enclosed space.

Open MRI Machines
During an open MRI, patients are not enclosed in a small tube such as with a standard MRI. This is a more relaxing option for patients who are prone to claustrophobia or who are stressed about the scan. Most patients prefer an open MRI machine because only the top and bottom of the machine is magnetic, or enclosed, while the sides are left open. Another advantage of an open MRI machine is that patients don't have to remain as still while the test is being performed as they do in a standard MRI machine. Because the magnet isn't completely surrounding them, there is a little more "wiggle" room.

What to Expect During Your Medical Imaging Visit
Before your MRI, you can expect to be questioned about any metal items you may have internally or externally (body piercings, tattoos, pacemaker, etc.) since you will be exposed to a strong magnetic environment. Depending on the physician's orders, you may be injected with a liquid dye before the scan which highlights problems that might not show up otherwise. The imaging process itself is painless and takes an average of 30-60 minutes.

MRIs can provide doctors with the information they need to diagnose and treat their patients. Thanks to new advances in imaging technology, an open MRI machine is more patient-friendly.

McLean County Orthopedics offers a state-of-the-art open MRI machine. We want our patients to be as comfortable as possible. Our specialists will guide you through the process, from your scan to the diagnosis and treatment of your orthopedic condition. Have questions? Call 309-663-6461 today or visit us online for more information. 

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