Open MRI vs Closed MRI: What is the Difference and Which One is Best Suited for You?

So you’re having a medical problem and your doctor has ordered an MRI. Your immediate reaction is one of reluctance and anxiety. MRI’s are often necessary, but they are not fun. So what are your options? The good news is that having an MRI today doesn’t have to be that bad. In addition to traditional closed machines, there are now larger “wide bore” machines and even open MRI’s. Depending on your unique situation, there may be alternatives.

From their creation, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) machines have made a large impact on the way we diagnose certain diseases and study internal organs. Through the use of MRIs we are able to more accurately diagnose and study diseases of the brain such as dementia, as well as cancer, ENT conditions, spinal and musculoskeletal problems, and other harder to diagnose diseases in their earliest stages. The closed MRI scanner is the most accurate MRI there is. Patient lie in a very narrow space in a “tube-like” structure for the test. However, many patients have reported feelings of extreme claustrophobia while using the traditional closed MRIs. In some cases the patient’s size may make it impossible to have a traditional closed scan. In these cases, a wide bore MRI or an open MRI may be an option.

Closed MRI

Closed MRI’s have been around the longest and make use of a capsule-like space to take high quality images. The machine is actually a magnet the patient lies in, and a radio wave is used to send signals to the body and receive them back. The returning signals are converted into images by a computer attached to the scanner. MRI scanners come in different magnet field strengths measured in teslas or “T”, usually between 0.5T and 3.0T. The results of these images are very detailed, allowing doctors to make an accurate diagnosis and craft a specific treatment plan for your condition. Because of the shape of the scan, it is able to take images of areas not available with any other scans, meaning that in some cases closed MRIs are absolutely necessary.

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The drawbacks of the closed MRI lies specifically in the lack of comfort they afford the patient. The dimensions and shape of the scans are very small and encapsulated causing claustrophobia. The fact that it takes several minutes to take a full scan increases the risk of claustrophobia and panic attacks can develop in some cases. Movement inside the capsule ruins the images, so it is also crucial that the patient stay extremely still or risk having to repeat the scan. In addition, the narrow dimensions mean that large or obese patients are unable to fit in many traditional closed machines.

The problems patients have had with the closed scans has led engineers and scientists to develop wide-bore MRIs. Although still closed in the traditional sense, these MRI machines have larger internal dimensions decreasing the likelihood of panic attacks and claustrophobia inside the machines and allowing for larger patients to fit.

Open MRI

Open MRIs are just like they sound. They are open, while still using Magnets to take images of the inside of your body. Instead of an enclosed capsule, the open MRI uses a magnet top and bottom and is open on all four sides. These decrease the risk of claustrophobia and panic attacks exponentially and allows patients of all shapes and sizes to be able to make use of an MRI to accurately diagnose their problems. In some cases, it is the only alternative for patients. However, because of the shape of the open MRI, it is unable to take images of certain areas of the body and the images it does take are of lesser quality as the strength of the open machines is less than that of a closed or wide bore MRI. For this reason, an open MRI is not always an option. Certain scans must be taken with a closed machine.

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If you have concerns, your best bet is to talk to your doctor about the alternatives. Do research to determine the types of machines used before making your appointment. If going for an open MRI machine, check the strength of the machines available at the facility where you will have your test.

There are also things you can do to help with anxiety when going for a test:

  1. Ask your doctor for a sedative or anti-anxiety medicine to take during the test. This can help tremendously with claustrophobia and fear.
  2. Wear clothes that are comfortable
  3. Ask for earplugs (the machines are noisy)
  4. Try relaxation techniques while in the machine. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth slowly, counting to ten each time. Wait several minutes and repeat.
  5. Have a friend or relative accompany you for support. If you have taken a sedative, you will need someone to drive you.

At the end of the day, it is important to realize that MRI imaging provides a unique view into the interior of your body and has become an essential tool of modern medical imaging and disease diagnosis. In many cases, MRI provides important diagnostic information that cannot be obtained with other imaging studies and in most cases it can lead to early detection and treatment of disease.

At Independent Imaging we offer both closed and open MRI exams, using the latest in cutting edge technology to obtain the most precise and detailed images possible. Visit us at our Wellington, Belle Glade, or Lake Worth Location. Or call us today to schedule your appointment at (561)795-5558.