Chest MRI

Definition

A chest MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan is a imaging test that uses powerful magnets and radio waves to create pictures of the chest, or thoracic, area. It does not use radiation (x-rays).

See also: Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

How the Test is Performed

You may be asked to wear a hospital gown or clothing without metal fasteners (such as sweatpants and a t-shirt). Certain types of metal can cause blurry images or be dangerous to have on in the scanner room.

You will lie on a narrow table, which slides into a large tunnel-shaped scanner.

Some exams require a special dye (contrast). The dye is usually given before the test through a vein (IV) in your hand or forearm. The dye helps the radiologist see certain areas more clearly.

During the MRI, the person who operates the machine will watch you from another room. The test most often lasts 30-60 minutes, but may take longer.

How to Prepare for the Test

You may be asked not to eat or drink anything for 4 - 6 hours before the scan.

Tell your doctor if you are afraid of close spaces (have claustrophobia). You may be given a medicine to help you feel sleepy and less anxious, or your doctor may suggest an "open" MRI, in which the machine is not as close to the body.

Before the test, tell your health care provider if you have:

Because the MRI contains strong magnets, metal objects are not allowed into the room with the MRI scanner:

How the Test Will Feel

An MRI exam causes no pain. If you have difficulty lying still or are very nervous, you may be given a medicine to relax you. Too much movement can blur MRI images and cause errors.

The table may be hard or cold, but you can request a blanket or pillow. The machine produces loud thumping and humming noises when turned on. You can wear ear plugs to help reduce the noise.

An intercom in the room allows you to speak to someone at any time. Some MRIs have televisions and special headphones that you can use to help the time pass.

There is no recovery time, unless you were given a medicine to relax. After an MRI scan, you can resume your normal diet, activity, and medications.

Why the Test is Performed

A chest MRI provides detailed pictures of tissues within the chest area.

A chest MRI may be done for the following reasons:

Normal Results

A normal result means your chest area appears normal.

What Abnormal Results Mean

An abnormal chest MRI may be due to:

Consult your health care provider with any questions and concerns.

Risks

MRI uses no radiation. To date, no side effects from the magnetic fields and radio waves have been reported.

The most common type of contrast (dye) used is gadolinium. It is very safe. Allergic reactions to the substance rarely occur. However, gadolinium can be harmful to patients with kidney problems who require dialysis. If you have kidney problems, please tell your health care provider before the test.

The strong magnetic fields created during an MRI can cause heart pacemakers and other implants to not work as well. It can also cause a piece of metal inside your body to move or shift.

Considerations

Currently, MRI is not considered a valuable tool for spotting or monitoring slight changes in lung tissue, since the lungs contain mostly air and are difficult to image.

Disadvantages of MRI include:


Review Date: 9/1/2012
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.

This information should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. © 1997- 2007 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.