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MRI Made Easy with Step By Step MRI: A Simplified Approach for Beginners

Step By Step MRI: A Guide to Magnetic Resonance Imaging

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a powerful and versatile diagnostic tool that uses magnetic fields and radio waves to produce detailed images of the body's internal structures. MRI can reveal abnormalities that may not be visible with other imaging methods, such as X-rays, ultrasound, or computed tomography (CT).

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However, MRI is not a simple procedure that can be performed by anyone. It requires a thorough understanding of the principles and techniques of MRI, as well as proper patient preparation, safety precautions, and image interpretation. This article will provide you with a step by step guide to MRI, covering the basics of MRI physics, the components of an MRI machine, the different types of MRI contrast and sequences, and the common applications of MRI in various anatomical regions.

What is MRI and how does it work?

MRI is based on the fact that some atoms in the body, such as hydrogen atoms, have a property called spin. This means that they act like tiny magnets that align themselves with an external magnetic field. When an MRI machine applies a strong magnetic field to the body, the hydrogen atoms in the tissues align themselves along the direction of the field.

Then, the MRI machine sends a short pulse of radio waves to a specific area of the body. This pulse causes some of the hydrogen atoms to flip their orientation and move out of alignment with the magnetic field. When the radio pulse is turned off, the hydrogen atoms gradually return to their original alignment, releasing energy in the form of radio signals. These signals are detected by a coil or antenna placed around the body part being scanned.

The strength and duration of the radio signals depend on the type and amount of tissue in the scanned area. Different tissues have different rates of returning to their original alignment, which are called relaxation times. By varying the timing and intensity of the radio pulses, different types of tissues can be highlighted or suppressed in the images. For example, fat tissue has a short relaxation time and produces a bright signal on T1-weighted images, while water has a long relaxation time and produces a dark signal on T1-weighted images.

What are the components of an MRI machine?

An MRI machine consists of four main components: a magnet, a gradient system, a radiofrequency (RF) system, and a computer.

  • The magnet is the most important and expensive part of an MRI machine. It generates a strong and uniform magnetic field that ranges from 0.2 to 7 tesla (T), where 1 T is about 20,000 times stronger than the earth's magnetic field. The magnet can be either permanent or electromagnet. Permanent magnets are cheaper and easier to maintain, but they have lower field strength and image quality. Electromagnets are more powerful and flexible, but they require more space and cooling systems.

  • The gradient system consists of coils of wires that create additional magnetic fields that vary in strength and direction across the body part being scanned. These fields allow the MRI machine to select a thin slice or volume of tissue to be imaged at a time. The gradient system also changes the frequency and phase of the hydrogen atoms in different locations within the slice or volume, creating spatial information that is used to reconstruct the image.

  • The RF system consists of a transmitter that generates radio pulses that excite the hydrogen atoms in the tissue, and a receiver that collects the signals emitted by them. The RF system also includes coils or antennas that are placed around or inside the body part being scanned. These coils can be either surface coils or volume coils. Surface coils are smaller and closer to the tissue, providing better signal-to-noise ratio and resolution. Volume coils are larger and cover more area, providing more uniformity and coverage.

  • The computer controls all the operations of the MRI machine, such as setting the parameters of the scan, processing the data from the RF system, and displaying the images on a monitor. The computer also stores and transfers the images to other devices or networks for further analysis or diagnosis.

What are the types of MRI contrast and sequences?

MRI contrast refers to how different tissues appear on an image based on their signal intensity or brightness. MRI contrast can be influenced by several factors, such as tissue properties, magnetic field strength, RF pulse sequence, scan parameters, and contrast agents.

Tissue properties include proton density (PD), which is the number of hydrogen atoms per unit volume; T1 relaxation time, which is how fast

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What are the steps to perform an MRI scan?

Performing an MRI scan involves several steps that require careful planning and preparation. The steps are as follows:

  • Patient preparation: The patient should be informed about the procedure, its benefits and risks, and any instructions or precautions to follow before, during, and after the scan. The patient should also be screened for any contraindications or safety hazards, such as metal implants, pacemakers, claustrophobia, pregnancy, or allergies. The patient should remove any metal objects or clothing that may interfere with the scan, such as jewelry, watches, glasses, belts, or bras. The patient should also empty their bladder and bowel before the scan.

  • Positioning and immobilization: The patient should be positioned on a movable table that slides into the bore of the magnet. The body part to be scanned should be aligned with the center of the magnet and placed inside a coil or antenna that transmits and receives the RF signals. The patient should be immobilized with straps, cushions, or foam pads to prevent any motion during the scan, as even slight movements can degrade the image quality.

  • Scan protocol selection: The operator should select the appropriate scan protocol based on the clinical indication, anatomical region, and desired contrast. The scan protocol consists of a series of parameters that control the RF pulses, gradient fields, slice thickness, field of view, matrix size, number of averages, and scan time. The operator can choose from predefined protocols or customize them according to specific needs.

  • Data acquisition and processing: The operator should initiate the scan by pressing a button or a foot pedal. The MRI machine will then generate a series of RF pulses and gradient fields that excite and manipulate the hydrogen atoms in the tissue. The RF signals emitted by the hydrogen atoms will be detected by the coil or antenna and sent to the computer for processing. The computer will use mathematical algorithms to reconstruct the images from the data using spatial encoding techniques such as Fourier transform or k-space mapping.

  • Image display and analysis: The operator should monitor the images as they are acquired on a monitor. The operator can adjust the contrast, brightness, magnification, orientation, or annotation of the images using various tools and functions. The operator can also perform measurements, calculations, or post-processing techniques such as subtraction, fusion, segmentation, or registration on the images. The operator can store and transfer the images to other devices or networks for further analysis or diagnosis.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of MRI?

MRI has many advantages over other imaging modalities, such as:

  • It provides high-resolution images of soft tissues and organs that are not well seen by X-rays, ultrasound, or CT.

  • It can show both anatomy and function of tissues and organs by using different contrast mechanisms and sequences.

  • It does not use ionizing radiation that may pose health risks to patients or staff.

  • It can image any part of the body in any plane or direction without repositioning the patient.

  • It can provide information about blood flow and perfusion by using angiography or perfusion sequences.

However, MRI also has some disadvantages and limitations, such as:

  • It is expensive and complex to operate and maintain.

  • It is sensitive to motion artifacts that can degrade image quality.

  • It has long scan times that may cause discomfort or anxiety to patients.

  • It has strict safety requirements that may exclude some patients with metal implants, pacemakers, claustrophobia, pregnancy, or allergies.

  • It has limited availability and accessibility in some areas or settings.


MRI is a powerful and versatile diagnostic tool that uses magnetic fields and radio waves to produce detailed images of the body's internal structures. MRI can reveal abnormalities that may not be visible with other imaging methods, such as X-rays, 4e3182286b


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