In magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), a large, powerful magnet and radio waves, in association with a computer, are used to produce three-dimensional images of the body. A cervical MRI with contrast is used to view the neck region of the spine, known as the cervical spine. This medical imaging procedure uses contrast, which is a type of dye introduced into a vein, to highlight certain areas. A cervical MRI with contrast can show detailed images of the vertebral bones, the disks between them and the spinal cord and nerves. This can help doctors diagnose neck injuries, infections, cancer and diseases such as multiple sclerosis.
Of all the available spine imaging procedures, MRI produces the clearest and most detailed pictures. In the case of a cervical MRI with contrast, this enables doctors to detect very subtle changes in the spine. When patients have weak or paralyzed muscles, MRI scans may be used to diagnose the condition known as spinal cord compression. The early signs of a spinal tumor or abscess may also be detected. Magnetic resonance imaging is also known as nuclear magnetic resonance imaging (NMRI) and magnetic resonance tomography (MRT).
A cervical MRI with contrast is a painless procedure which is normally carried out in a radiology department while the patient is awake. There are no known side effects although, rarely, some people may have an allergic reaction to the contrast dye. As the MRI scanner often encloses the body, patients with claustrophobia may decide to take anxiety-relieving medication before the test. Some units have machines in which patients are not fully enclosed and which are more suitable for anxious or unusually large people. Due to the magnetic field involved, metal and electronic items have to be left outside the MRI machine, although many medical implants do not cause a problem.
The cervical MRI with contrast is performed with the patient wearing a hospital gown and lying on a narrow platform. Dye is injected into a vein at the start of the procedure, before the platform moves and the patient slides into the MRI scanner. While the scans are being taken, the neck may feel warmer than usual, and a number of different sounds may be heard coming from the machine. As the sounds can be very noisy, some patients choose to wear earplugs. Each image may take seconds or minutes to record and the whole test may take up to an hour to complete.