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Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) of the Spine

Risks continued...

Metal parts in the eyes can damage the retina. If you may have metal fragments in the eye, an X-ray of the eyes may be done before the MRI. If metal is found, the MRI will not be done.

Iron pigments in tattoos or tattooed eyeliner can cause skin or eye irritation.

An MRI can cause a burn with some medicine patches. Be sure to tell your health professional if you are wearing a patch.

There is a slight risk of an allergic reaction if contrast material is used during the MRI. But most reactions are mild and can be treated using medicine. There also is a slight risk of an infection at the IV site.

Results

The radiologist may discuss some of the results of the MRI with you right after the test. Complete results are usually ready for your doctor in 1 to 2 days.

MRI of the spine
Normal:

The bones of the spine, discs, and nerves are normal.

No tumors, inflammation, or areas of nerve damage in the spine are present.

No disease or bone loss in the spine is present.

No ruptured discs are present. There are no structures pressing on a nerve.

No structural problems that have been present from birth (congenital problems) are found.

Abnormal:

Tumors, inflammation, or areas of nerve damage in the spine are present. A disease of the spinal cord, such as multiple sclerosis, is found.

Narrowing of the spinal canal (spinal stenosis) is present.

Broken bones or bone loss in the spine caused by injury or disease, such as arthritis, is found.

One or more discs of the spine are bulging or ruptured or pressing on a nerve.

A condition that has been present from birth (congenital condition) is found in the spine or the vertebrae.

What Affects the Test

Reasons you may not be able to have the test or why the results may not be helpful include:

  • Pregnancy. An MRI test usually is not done during pregnancy.
  • Medical devices that use electronics, such as a pacemaker or medicine infusion pump. The MRI magnet may cause problems with these devices, and that may keep you from having an MRI.
  • Medical devices that have metal in them. The metal might make some of the detailed MRI pictures blurry. This may prevent your doctor from seeing the organ that is being looked at. For example, any metal in your spine may prevent your doctor from seeing it clearly.
  • Inability to remain still during the test.
  • Obesity. A person who is very overweight may not fit into standard MRI machines.

Many modern medical devices that do not use electronics—such as heart valves, stents, or clips—can be safely placed in most MRI machines. But some newer MRI machines have stronger magnets. The safety of MRI scans with these stronger MRI magnets in people with medical devices is not known.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: May 24, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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