MRI and fMRI Scans: Procedures & Uses

MRI tests are used to create static images of a body’s internal anatomy. An fMRI is a type of MRI that detects metabolic activities over time. Learn the differences between fMRIs and MRIs today.

Functional MRI (fMRI) vs. MRI Scans

Magnetic Resonance Imaging

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a type of medical imaging that uses strong magnetic fields to produce images of organs in the body. Unlike other types of imaging such as CT (or CAT) scans or PET scans, an MRI does not use X-rays.

MRIs are used to detect or assess a variety of conditions in many parts of the body. For example, an MRI of the brain and spinal cord can reveal evidence of:

  • Brain injury
  • Stroke
  • Blood vessel damage
  • Cancer
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Spinal cord injuries

A scan of the heart and blood vessels may show:

  • Damage caused by a heart attack
  • Heart disease
  • Blocked blood vessels
  • Abnormal heart structure

Bones and joints can also be imaged using MRI technology, detecting:

  • Cancer
  • Joint damage
  • Problems with discs in the spine
  • Bone infections

An MRI can also be used to evaluate organs such as the liver, kidneys, breasts, pancreas, ovaries, and prostate.

Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) is a specialized form of MRI that is used to examine the brain’s functional anatomy, meaning which part of the brain is handling critical functions. An fMRI measures small changes in blood flow that occur over time with brain activity.

The scan can help doctors assess the effects of a stroke or other condition affecting the brain or spinal cord. It is also used to detect structural abnormalities that cannot be detected with other imaging techniques. The information from an fMRI helps a doctor determine the most effective treatment or assess how well a chosen treatment is working.

What is it like to have an MRI or fMRI?

An MRI or fMRI is a painless, non-invasive medical procedure. An MRI machine looks like a large donut. Its circular shape houses a powerful magnet. The patient is positioned in the center opening of the machine for the scan.

Because of the strong magnetic field that is produced in the test, no metal is allowed in the procedure room. This includes things like cell phones, watches, dentures, hearing aids, and underwire bras. Some tattoos may contain metal, so it is important to let your doctor know if you have tattoos.

An MRI exam is noisy, with loud and repetitive thumping and tapping sounds. However, patients are offered special headphones that contain no metal to help block the sound. Young children and people who are claustrophobic may require a sedative so they can remain calm and still during the scan.

Fast, efficient and highly detailed, MRIs and fMRIs are very valuable diagnostic tools that can help your doctor accurately assess and effectively treat a wide range of medical conditions.

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