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Do you need a medical scan? Do you worry about the safety risks? There’s no need to be nervous. MRI scanning is 100% safe, as long as you follow the guidelines that the MRI technician will explain.
For anybody out there who’s wondering what the potential dangers and side effects of an MRI scan are, please read this short article. You’ll feel better if you do.
MRI Denver: Do magnetic fields and radio waves cause damage?
The reason why you might be worried is that you associate medical scans with radiation. Well, the good news is that MRI scans don’t involve radiation. X-rays and CAT scans carry all the risks that exposure to radiation does, which is what makes MRI scanning so popular. It’s completely safe, by contrast.
The first thing to get out of the way is that the very strong magnetic field which an MRI scan produces is completely safe. Being inside or being next to even a very strong magnetic field causes absolutely no harmful effects. Nor do the radio signals which an MRI scan also produces in order to function.
MRI Denver: What about the contrast injection?
You may also have head about the gadolinium injection which some MRI scans require. Gadolinium is what’s called a contrast agent, which essentially is like turning up the contrast on your TV or computer monitor. It allows your radiologist to better see what’s going on inside your body– hence the name.
Getting an injection is scary even for some medical professionals. So don’t worry, you’re not alone in being worried at the idea of an injection. But, just like vaccinations, the only thing you’ll experience is a slight wooziness followed by a speedy return to normal. Many patients experience a brief but mild headache, as well as a passing nausea. This can be disconcerting if you’re not expecting it, but don’t worry- almost every patient who has undergone a series of MRI scans has felt the same feelings. In fewer than one in a thousand patients, gadolinium can cause a mild allergic reaction at the site of injection. This means that the skin will turn red, and may swell. But like the rest of the symptoms, this will soon pass.
The only problem is if you have a history of allergic reactions. If you do, then there’s a chance you could experience anaphylactic shock. But for this very reason, every MRI clinic has to have a stock of Epipens which can be quickly accessed and administered. Even though the name ‘gadolinium’ sounds scary, it’s really not. Your kidneys filter the vast majority of the stuff from your bloodstream within a day. They pass it from the body soon after.
MRI Denver: Being in an MRI scanner can be a claustrophobic trigger
Since the inside of an MRI is so small, it can be a claustrophobic trigger to anybody with claustrophobia. We can avoid this problem, by using a short bore MRI instead of a regular sized scanner. This allows people of a larger size to fit inside, as it allows more room, and can therefore be useful for claustrophobic patients too.
MRI Denver: Metal implants are dangerous
Right: now onto the actual dangers involved in an MRI scan. The first one that we’re pointing out is the most important, and the most common. If you have any sort of metal implants or piercings, then you shouldn’t have an MRI unless you remove them.
Why? Because the magnet in an MRI isn’t your regular magnet. It isn’t the same strength as one you’ll find in a physics lab at school. No- it’s incredibly powerful, by which we mean it’s powerful enough to twist the bolt in your knee, or your elbow, and rip your limb to shreds. No, that’s not an exaggeration. The same applies to piercings, which will fly out of your lip or ear so quick it’ll make your head spin. Not fun.
You should also definitely avoid an MRI scan if you have a non-MR safe pacemaker. This is because the magnetic field can play havoc with your pacemaker, forcing it to beat in a way not recommended for a human heart! That’s why it’s one of the first things we ask any prospective patient before their first scan.
MRI Denver: Will the magnet attract metal implements from around the room?
In the same way that an MRI scanner can play havoc with implants inside your body, it can also attract any magnetic objects around it. This includes any ferromagnetic metals, which as you know, are common in hospitals and clinics! Because of the risk that this poses, clinics are kitted out with equipment made from non-magnetic materials like aluminum, titanium, copper and so on. Because these metals aren’t magnetic, they don’t pose a risk.
So what’s the risk if we did leave magnetic objects in the same room as you during your scan? Well, think of it this way. When two magnets, or a magnet and a magnetic object, are introduced to each other… What happens? They snap together. And typically, the smaller object will snap towards the larger one. So any magnetic hospital equipment- scalpels, scissors, fire extinguishers, gurneys, whatever it might be- will come flying towards you as you’re in the scanner. This can be exceedingly dangerous, so our MRI scanning rooms are equipped only with non-ferromagnetic materials.