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What is an MRI?


An MRI is a painless, noninvasive imaging test, or scan, that uses large magnets, radio waves, and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and body structures. This includes ligaments, cartilage, tendons, blood vessels, bones, spinal discs, and organs such as the pancreas or brain. 

An MRI, also called magnetic resonance imaging, provides information not available with X-rays, CT scans, or ultrasounds. Sometimes, patients receive a contrast agent or dye to further improve the clarity of MRI images.

A radiologist will review your MRI images and discuss them with your doctor, who will discuss the results with you. Together, you will decide what next steps, if any, you need to take based on the MRI results.

An MRI is only one method used to diagnose diseases, disorders and conditions. Discuss all of your testing options with your doctor to understand which options are right for you.

Types of MRIs

Doctors order MRIs to make detailed images of the organs and structures of the head, chest, abdomen, pelvis, spine, bones and joints. An MRI may be combined with other imaging techniques, such as ultrasound or CT scan. There are also a variety of specialized types of MRIs including:

  • Functional MRI (FMRI) uses MRI to identify areas of active brain function during specific tasks. FMRI can help plan certain types of brain surgery.

  • Interventional MRI uses MRI images to guide minimally invasive procedures.

  • Magnetic resonance angiography (MRA) makes images of blood vessels.

  • Positron emission tomography/MRI (PET/MRI) is a type of nuclear imaging test that creates detailed images using a radioactive substance and a special camera combined with an MRI.

  • Real-time MRI captures real-time, continuous pictures of the body’s organs or structures in action, such as a beating heart or a moving joint.

Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Sep 13, 2016

© 2016 Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the Healthgrades User Agreement.

View Sources

Medical References

  1. Magnetic Resonance Imaging. The Journal of the American Medical Association.
  2. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). Nemours.
  3. MR Angiography (MRA).
  4. MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

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