New technologies in diagnostic medical devices always go through a period of concern involving side effects and risk factors. Where many issues may be readily addressed, there are usually a few that present later. At one time, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines were new to the medical field; however, they are now a standard tool used to diagnose certain conditions. MRI mishaps are on a downward trend, thanks to safety guidelines available to the facilities using them.
Risk Factors for MRI Injuries
MRI machines use a strong, static magnetic field, a pulsed gradient field and radiofrequency energy to make images. People who are sensitive to sound may find the loud knocking noise too much for their ears. Protection for the ears needs to be worn to prevent harm.
Another potentially harmful risk factor is the strong magnetic field. It can attract iron, iron alloys and some other materials – this includes anything from a small pen to an oxygen tank to a floor buffer.
The most common MRI mishaps sustained during scanning are burns. The radiofrequency energy may cause the body to heat up. This can occur with longer MRI exams.
While these issues may occur with anyone, patients who have implants or external devices, such as an insulin pump or leg brace, pose particular challenges. Implanted devices may move (due to the strong magnetic field) or heat up, causing burns. Electrical medical devices may malfunction with an MRI scan, thus affecting the intended therapy.
For such patients, an MRI scan is usually contraindicated. The exception is devices that have been identified to be MR Safe or MR Conditional. A device is deemed safe if it has no metal components, doesn’t conduct electricity and poses no known hazards in MR environments. MR Conditional devices are safe only in certain circumstances. They must match the conditions for safe use with certain MRI machines. When a device does not have a known status, i.e., whether not it is safe or conditional, it is always assumed to be unsafe, in order to avoid any possible MRI mishaps.
Facilities using MRI scanning need to be diligent with their safety measures. This is the chief way of preventing MRI mishaps. Guidelines for safety were created immediately after a tragic MRI mishap in 2001. Because the guidelines are readily available, there is no defense for an MRI mishap in the vast majority of cases. Thanks to the diligence of a few key physicians, MRI mishaps are less frequent.
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