Are You MRI Safe?: August 6, 2014

Millions of Americans have them - hidden out of sight, underneath their skin. Implantable devices meant to fix what ails them. But these devices can present problems when it comes to getting an MRI.

“The MRI machine itself is an incredibly strong magnet, very unique environment and whenever you’re placing anything that’s metal or anything that’s electronic into that environment, you have to make sure that it’s safe,” says Dr. Cory Duffek, who is a neuroradiologist for Lee Memorial Health System.

For the most part, bone pins, artificial joints and titanium hips are made of non-magnetic material. Teeth crowns and dentures are also safe. Other implants may prevent a patient from getting this form of diagnostic test.

“Like a nerve stimulator or a pacemaker. The other big ones are endovascular stents, coronary artery stents, stents in a patient’s aorta,” says Dr. Duffek.

Over the past few decades, magnets have quadrupled in power and more scans are being performed than ever before. MRIs can detect dozens of serious ailments such as tumor and stroke-without radiation. Time has brought advances in technology- so that many newer devices are MRI-friendly.

“This modality is similar to a pacemaker for pain,” says Dr. Gene Mahaney, who is a pain management physician on the medical staff of Lee Memorial Health System.

The use of spinal cord stimulators to zap chronic pain is on the upswing. These devices were off-limits for magnetic imaging - until now.

We were sometimes forced to remove devices, obtain an MRI, and re-implant them. Now with some of the new modalities, which are considered MRI safe, we can allow people to obtain an MRI down the road without any risk,” says Dr. Mahaney.

MRI-friendly pacemakers are also available now and other devices are considered MRI conditional.

“We have to make sure the scanner we’re going to scan that patient on meets all of those conditions,” says Dr. Duffek.

As many as 70% of patients with an implanted device will need an MRI in the future, so it’s important to play it safe.