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What does an MRI Image Show?

An MRI image offers a detailed glimpse inside the body, revealing structures and tissues with high precision. It can uncover abnormalities, guide diagnoses, and track treatment progress. By using magnetic fields and radio waves, it captures images without radiation, making it a safe diagnostic tool. Curious about what secrets your body's inner landscape might hold? Let's dive deeper into the world of MRI imaging.
Mike Howells
Mike Howells

A magnetic resonance image (MRI) is a type of diagnostic scan that can show highly detailed pictures of the interior of the body. With their high contrast, MRIs are the tool of choice for mapping complex organs such as the brain and heart, as well as joints and muscles. Rather than using bursts of radiation like an X-ray, an MRI image is produced by using strong magnetic and radio frequency (RF) fields.

A MRI image is most often performed to discern the presence of potentially damaged or pathologic tissue. The reasons could range from a traumatic injury such as a muscle strain, to a subtler problem such as possible cancer. In these cases, a traditional X-ray or even a computed tomography (CT) scan is not ideal. An MRI image, which is produced through the use of RF waves as opposed to ionizing radiation, is better suited for renderings of soft, non-bone tissue.

Medical professionals use MRI machines to diagnose internal maladies.
Medical professionals use MRI machines to diagnose internal maladies.

Unlike a simple X-ray, the way an MRI image is taken can be tweaked to produce a variety of different results, depending on what a technician wants to highlight. Collectively, a particular group of settings is known as a pulse sequence. Pulse sequences can be equated to the way different shutter speeds and aperture sizes on a camera can produce different images of the same subject. Modern MRI machines store catalogs of pulse sequence settings for use in different situations.

A MRI scan of the brain.
A MRI scan of the brain.

Echo time and repetition time are two constituent parts of a pulse sequence, and can be adjusted up or down. A basic MRI image shows fat cells brighter than water, and is good for rendering joints and muscles. With what is known as a T2-weighted scan, the contrast is reversed and is ideal for scans of the brain and its highly fatty white-matter. A variety of other specialized scans are used to highlight different combinations of tissue.

An MRI machine.
An MRI machine.

In addition to varying levels of contrast, advanced MRI images can show time lapse frames, three-dimensional renders, and even close-to-live scans of the brain, known as functional MRI. A functional MRI takes a scan of the brain every several seconds while the patient is exposed to varying levels of stimuli. It can show whether or not a brain is functioning normally when compared to known patterns, as blood flow shows up as flares on the images.

An MRI machine uses a magnetic field and radio waves to create pictures of internal organs and bone structures.
An MRI machine uses a magnetic field and radio waves to create pictures of internal organs and bone structures.

Through the early 21st century, progress has been made in real-time MRI. This technique produces live images, making it ideal for scans of the heart and can show where valves may be malfunctioning as blood is pumped through. Real-time MRIs output movies as opposed to single-frame images, though screen captures can isolate individual frames for added scrutiny.

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    • Medical professionals use MRI machines to diagnose internal maladies.
      By: Konstantin Sutyagin
      Medical professionals use MRI machines to diagnose internal maladies.
    • A MRI scan of the brain.
      By: Marcin Sadlowski
      A MRI scan of the brain.
    • An MRI machine.
      By: Hakan Kızıltan
      An MRI machine.
    • An MRI machine uses a magnetic field and radio waves to create pictures of internal organs and bone structures.
      By: Monkey Business
      An MRI machine uses a magnetic field and radio waves to create pictures of internal organs and bone structures.
    • An MRI allows for the visualization of brain structures.
      By: sudok1
      An MRI allows for the visualization of brain structures.
    • Experienced MRI technicians can often spot abnormalities in scans while the testing is being conducted.
      By: EPSTOCK
      Experienced MRI technicians can often spot abnormalities in scans while the testing is being conducted.
    • A CT scan is not ideal in certain situations, including the presence of damaged or pathological tissue.
      By: Tyler Olson
      A CT scan is not ideal in certain situations, including the presence of damaged or pathological tissue.