Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a great resource for doctors, as it provides them with very detailed images of the inside of your body. MRI machines use a strong magnet and radio waves to pull gently on hydrogen atoms inside your body. A computer measures how much the hydrogen atoms move in response to the magnet inside the machine, and then it creates a picture of the inside of your body by taking advantage of the fact that hydrogen atoms in different types of tissue move at different rates in response to the magnet.
The detailed diagnostic imaging produced by an MRI allows doctors to diagnose or rule out a variety of conditions. Unfortunately, the process of taking an MRI can be quite uncomfortable despite the usefulness of the images produced. Closed MRI machines, where you enter into a narrow cylindrical capsule, can make people feel anxious.
If your doctor has ordered an MRI for you and you don't want to do it because you're afraid of being in an MRI machine, you may want to look into having an open MRI performed instead. When you're having an open MRI done, you can either sit in a comfortable chair or stand while magnets on either side of you take an image of the inside of your body. To learn more about why people opt for an open MRI and what you should know about it compared to a closed MRI, read on.
Why Do People Opt for an Open MRI?
People who are claustrophobic often struggle with traditional closed MRIs. Unless you're getting an image taken of your legs, you'll enter into the narrow MRI capsule head first, and this is distressing for people with claustrophobia. In addition, the closed MRI machine makes loud noises while it's taking an image, and you'll be required to remain perfectly still while it works so that it can take a clear picture of your body. Open MRIs are much more comfortable since you won't need to enter into a narrow capsule in order to have diagnostic imaging performed.
In addition, closed MRIs can be very uncomfortable for people who are very large. The capsule isn't very large, and it can feel cramped. Having an open MRI performed instead will prevent this problem.
Do Open MRIs Have Any Downsides?
Open MRIs use a weaker magnet than closed MRIs, which limits their effectiveness. The strength of the magnet used in the MRI machine determines how clear the images from the procedure are — it's easier for a doctor to tell the difference between various types of tissue in your body when a stronger magnet is used.
The lower quality images mean that open MRIs aren't a suitable form of diagnostic imaging in every case. If a patient has liver cancer and a doctor wants to know if it has spread further throughout the liver, for example, then a closed MRI with a very strong magnet needs to be used to take an image — it's very difficult to see into the liver and tell the difference between healthy tissue and cancerous tissue with a weak magnet.
What Should You Do if You Want an Open MRI Instead of a Closed MRI?
If you feel uncomfortable having a closed MRI, ask your doctor if an open MRI would be a possible alternative. Depending on what your doctor is trying to diagnose, the weaker magnet in an open MRI machine and the less detailed images may not be an issue. If your doctor says that an open MRI would be appropriate for you, find a diagnostic imaging center in your area that has an open MRI machine and schedule an appointment — if you're claustrophobic, you'll find that having an open MRI done is a much more comfortable procedure.