MRI Safety for Patients and Staff

What are MRI safety concerns for patients and staff? How to make the procedure reliable and safer? Co-authored by Alisa J Gray.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses a powerful magnetic field and radio waves but does not use ionizing radiatoion – so is it safe?

Stanford Medicine & Healthcare highlights that due to the powerful magnetic field patients with cochlear implants, neurostimulators, pacemakers/implants, and contraceptive devices can’t undergo the procedure.

Statistical data shows that health professionals in the United States perform 30 million MRI scans yearly. Therefore, hospitals, radiology departments, and health authorities must train more and more professionals in MRI safety to protect the staff and patients from potential side effects or risks.

Although radiologists have years of experience and extensive knowledge of MRI appropriateness criteria, they require support from referring physicians to measure and analyze the benefits and risks of MRI and related imaging procedures.

Is MRI Safe?

Research highlights that the static magnetic field in an MRI room is 30,000 times stronger than the earth’s magnetic field. Likewise, the magnetic field remains active 24 hours a day and seven days a week, regardless of whether a scanning is taking place. So, this causes a significant impact on the ferromagnetic objects, or items patients or workers bring into the MRI room.

Depending on the object type and size, such as an earring or wheelchair, the magnetic field can cause these objects to accelerate at high speed toward the scanner. As a result, this leads to dangerous and catastrophic effects. Besides, the magnetic field is contraindicated for the following: :

  • Internal objects
    • Shrapnel
    • Bullets
    • Shotgun pellets
  • External body art
    • Dermal piercings
    • Tattoos larger than 20cm or coverage of >5% of the body
    • Permanent cosmetics and ferromagnetic eyelashes
  • Non-titanium surgical objects, like
    • Pins
    • Plates
    • Screws
    • Wire mesh
    • Metal sutures
  • Health conditions, including
    • Anemia
    • Asthma
    • Allergy
    • Low blood pressure
    • Sickle cell anemia
  • Drug infusion pumps
  • Catheters with metallic components
  • Magnetic dental implants
  • Artificial limb
  • Tissue expander
  • Hearing aid

A 2022 study published in PubMed Central highlights that MRI has a few complications, but it is a safe procedure because it does not use ionizing radiation. So, patients can undergo multiple exams without adverse effects. Diagnostic procedures may also use MRI to improve therapeutic plans.

MRI allows health professionals to leverage computer-generated high-resolution images of soft tissues without ionizing radiation. So, MRI is a safe diagnostic modality and has become a reliable imaging technique for diagnosing cardiovascular, neurologic, and musculoskeletal disorders.

However, contraindications or restrictions caused by the magnetic field, gadolinium contrast agents, and machine structure can lead to problems for patients and staff. A 2021 study published by NCBI concludes that health professionals need evidence-based training in MRI safety to protect patients and other healthcare workers from adverse reactions.

Establishing a close collaboration between physicians and radiologists can streamline the process and ensure the safety of staff and patients. The purpose is to protect patients and staff from dangerous interactions like:

  • Projectile effects
  • Burning
  • Twisting
  • Artifacts
  • Device malfunction

How to Ensure Safety for Patients and Staff?

Ensuring patient and staff safety is essential to reduce issues and streamline the diagnostic procedure. Health professionals must provide patients with an “MRI Safety Screening Form” and ask them to answer the questions before undergoing the MRI scan.

A radiologist or radiographer can perform this screen test during a verbal interview with the patient. The purpose is to ensure the scan does not adversely affect the patient. You can ask the patient about any foreign substance/object that may interfere with the powerful magnetic field.

Browse the hospital’s database or MRI safety platforms and failing that, contact the medical device supplier to check the object’s “make and model” before scanning the patient’s body. Patients must also thoroughly discuss this with the physician or radiologist to determine whether an MRI scan is a reliable diagnostic procedure.

In addition, the staff’s responsibility is to ensure patients wear gowns in the MRI room. Gowns are reliable “personal protective equipment (PPE)” to hinder the interaction of metallic components with a strong magnetic field.

Before performing the scan, staff must also inform the patients about the procedure’s details. A 2018 study published in Science Direct highlights that gadolinium chelates work well with MRI, but physicians and radiologists must know the adverse reactions caused by these contrast agents.

Moreover, the MRI department should make substantial efforts to maintain an optimal environment in the diagnostic room. For instance, the department can provide the staff with appropriate medications to manage potential reactions.

Remember, MRI scanning machines make loud noises that can damage the patient’s hearing system. However, providing patients with earplugs and headphones can attenuate these noises.

Final Words

Unlike other diagnostic machines that use ionizing radiation, MRI is a safe procedure and helps health professionals diagnose a wide range of health conditions. However, an MRI scan can cause complications, as discussed above. Follow the safety guidelines to ensure the safety of patients and staff.

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