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MRI of the Chest

An MRI of the Chest is a noninvasive medical test that helps physicians diagnose and treat medical conditions. MR imaging uses a powerful magnetic field, radio frequency pulses and a computer to produce detailed pictures of organs, soft tissues, bone and virtually all other internal body structures. The images can then be examined on a computer monitor, printed or copied to CD. MRI does not use ionizing radiation (X-rays). Detailed MR images allow physicians to better evaluate various parts of the body and certain diseases that may not be assessed adequately with other imaging methods such as x-ray, ultrasound or computed tomography (also called CT or CAT scanning). MRI of the chest gives detailed pictures of structures within the chest cavity, including the heart and vessels, from almost any angle. MRI also provides movie-like sequential imaging of the cardiovascular system that is important to assess the health and function of these structures (heart, valves, great vessels, etc.).

Your doctor may recommend a MRI of the chest to:

  • Assess abnormal growths, including cancer of the lungs or other tissues, which either cannot be assessed adequately with other imaging modalities (typically CT) or which are particularly well-suited to MR imaging
  • Determine tumor size, extent and the degree to which the cancer has spread to adjacent structures
  • Assess the anatomy and functionality of the heart and its component structures (valves, etc.)
  • Determine blood flow dynamics in the vessels and heart chambers
  • Display lymph nodes and blood vessels, including vascular and lymphatic malformations of the chest
  • Assess disorders of the chest bones (vertebrae, ribs and sternum) and chest wall soft tissue (muscles and fat)

A special form of MRI called Magnetic Resonance Angiography (MRA) is helpful to assess the vessels of the chest cavity (arteries and veins). MRA can also demonstrate an abnormal ballooning out of the wall of an artery (aneurysm) or a torn inner lining of an artery (dissection).

MRI examinations may be performed on outpatients or inpatients. You will be positioned on the movable examination table. Straps and bolsters may be used to help you stay still and maintain the correct position during imaging. Small devices that contain coils capable of sending and receiving radio waves may be placed around or adjacent to the area of the body being studied.

If a contrast material will be used in the MRI exam, a nurse or technologist will insert an intravenous (IV) line into a vein in your hand or arm. A saline solution may be used. The solution will drip through the IV to prevent blockage of the IV line until the contrast material is injected. You will be moved into the magnet of the MRI unit and the radiologist and technologist will leave the room while the MRI examination is performed. If a contrast material is used during the examination, it will be injected into the intravenous line (IV) after an initial series of scans. Additional series of images will be taken during or following the injection. When the examination is completed, you may be asked to wait until the technologist or radiologist checks the images in case additional images are needed. Your intravenous line will be removed. MRI exams generally include multiple runs (sequences), some of which may last several minutes. The entire examination is usually completed within one hour.

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