Celebrate MRI Safety Week


In 2019 an estimated 42 million exams were performed in the United States! With a population of roughly 330 million, that means that -on average- about one in eight US residents got an MRI in 2019. If you know 500 people, then -statistically- of your immediate pool of acquaintances, roughly 64 people had MRIs in 2019. We may think of MRI as a rare or exceptional diagnostic tool, but it has become commonplace.

One-in-eight of us getting MRIs is more common than left-handedness (about one in ten), or Sagittarius (about one-in-thirteen), and, thankfully, more common than those who believe chocolate milk comes from brown cows (about one-in-fourteen). Surely something so common and so important to our health is well regulated, right?

Not in the USA, it is not.

  • While the FDA very carefully regulates MRI scanners, the FDA does not oversee MRI safety at hospitals and imaging centers.
  • Most regulation for all of radiology is based on controlling exposure to ionizing radiation. Still, MRI doesn’t use ionizing radiation, so MRI ‘falls through most states’ radiology safety regulations.
  • Many of the standards that exist are voluntary recommendations, so even ‘quality and safety assurances from accreditation organizations may not be particularly relevant in MRI.

 But to protect our patients, caregivers, and visitors, we take it upon ourselves to follow MRI safety best practices. If you or your loved ones ever need to visit us at our MRI suite, know that we take your safety very seriously.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging, or MRI, is a special type of medical imaging which -unlike X-rays- does not use ionizing radiation, which, when inappropriately used, may carry cancer risks. While MRI does not have the cancer risks, it does have its own rather unique set of risks that our technologists and radiologists work diligently to minimize.

Given that ‘magnetic’ is the first part of the name, many people know that MRI scanners attract magnetizable metals to them, potentially with alarming force. But do you know the other risk(s) that our staff actively manage to help keep MRI patients and workers safe? See if you can pick out the other risk (or risks) that is (are) particular to MRI…

  • An MRI can act on your inner ear and give you a sense of vertigo / make you dizzy.
  • MRI’s magnetic fields can cause non-MRI-friendly mechanical medication pumps to malfunction, potentially delivering too much or too little medication.
  • During MRI imaging, energies deposited into the patient’s body can slightly elevate their core temperature.
  • During MRI imaging, certain electromagnetic pulses have been known to ‘trick’ implanted pacemakers into delivering inappropriate & potentially dangerous ‘corrective’ shocks.
  • During MRI imaging, some wires in the tube with the patient can heat up and burn the MRI patient.
  • During MRI imaging, sometimes electrical currents will flow through the patient’s body, concentrating in small spots where the patient will develop burns.
  • Implanted objects made from magnetizable metals can pull or tear the tissues they are next to when attracted by the MRI’s magnetic field.

If you read through them all and had a hard time narrowing the list down to one or two, that is probably because this is a bit of a trick question… all seven of the above items are real risks/hazards that come from MRI, in addition to pulling metal objects across the room.

 Our staff does an excellent job working hard to keep everyone in the MRI area safe and deliver the best care. This week, MRI Safety Week, we are sharing a bit of what our MRI staff and physicians work on to make MRI one of the safest imaging choices for our patients and physicians.

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