What is an open MRI?
Open MRI is a diagnostic imaging technique that uses magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to obtain images similar to those obtained in a traditional MRI, but it does not require you to be placed inside a tightly enclosed tube. MRIs use powerful magnetic fields combined with radio waves and computers to produce highly-detailed images of internal organs, bones and joints, and other structures. In a traditional MRI exam, you lie flat on a table that slowly move your body through the MRI machine. The machine is shaped like a long tube with openings on either end. Your entire body will slide into this tube and you'll remain in the enclosed area while the images are created. Many patients find the experience too claustrophobic for their comfort. As a result, open MRIs were developed, featuring open sides or wider openings that relieve the feeling of claustrophobia. Open MRIs may also be a good choice for people who are obese. Like traditional MRIs, open MRIs do not use x-rays and they are completely painless.
When is open magnetic resonance imaging used?
Open MRIs can be used for many of the same reasons as traditional MRIs, including producing images of bones, organs, blood vessels, nerves and other tissues; however, because they do not rely on the same tight, enclosed tube shape, the images they produce may not always provide the degree of clarity necessary for the most accurate diagnosis or assessment of some types of diseases or abnormalities. As a result, their use is more restricted, and depending on the type of images your treatment provider is seeking, an open MRI may not be the best choice for you. If your provider requires a traditional MRI and you're concerned you may feel claustrophobic, ask about sedatives that can help keep you calm.
What happens during an open MRI?
As with a traditional MRI, you'll need to lie down on an exam table that will move you through the scanner. Unlike the traditional procedure, an open MRI scanner is wider or open on the sides, eliminating feelings of claustrophobia or “closeness” that some people feel during a traditional MRI. Straps may be used to hold your head, arms or legs in specific positions during the scan, and in some cases, a contrast agent or dye may be injected to help produce more detailed images. As the table slides beneath the scanning device, you'll hear noises – often characterized as thumping or tapping – that indicate the powerful magnets used by the scanner are creating alternating magnetic fields used to produce the images of your organs or other tissues. Depending on the images being produced, your MRI may last up to about an hour. Once the procedure is complete, you'll be able to go back to your regular activities right away.
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