What is an MRI and Why Might I Need One?

This 3-part blog series will address the questions many patients have about MRI scans; what is an MRI, why do I need an MRI, where can I get an MRI and when are they open?  In this first section, we'll address the "What" and the "Why" of MRI. 

What is an MRI?

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a test that uses powerful magnets, radio waves, and a computer to make detailed pictures inside your body.  

Your doctor can use this test to diagnose a problem you may be having, or to see how well you've responded to treatment. Unlike X-rays and CT scans, MRIs do not use the damaging ionizing radiation of X-rays.

The MRI machine looks very similar to a CT machine and sometimes patients can confuse the two.

CT is actually an X-ray of your body in pictures that are taken in slices (imagine a loaf of bread that is sliced and you can take out a middle slice to look at the white part of the bread).

MRI is also pictures taken in slices, but the way the pictures are acquired is much different as an MRI uses magnets instead of X-rays.

Click here to see more information about how an MRI works. 

Why do I need an MRI?

There are many imaging tests for many types of diseases.  If your doctor has ordered an MRI, there's usually something very specific they are looking for.

An MRI of the brain and spinal cord looks for: 

Symptoms you might be having can include headaches, blurred vision, dizziness, neck pain, etc.

An MRI of the heart and blood vessels looks for: 

Symptoms you might be having can include swelling in your limbs, chest pain, shortness of breath, weakness, dizziness, nausea, sweating, fatigue, sweating, etc.

An MRI of the bones and joints looks for: 

  • Bone infections
  • Cancer
  • Damage to joints
  • Disc problems in the spine
  • Neck or low back pain with nerve signs

Symptoms you might be having can include limb pain, joint pain, instability of joints, unsteady walking, back or neck pain, etc.

MRIs can also be done to check the health of these organs: 

These studies can look for disease processes within the organs; including cancers and infections.


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