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How open are open MRI scanners?

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Some 'open' MRIs aren't always so open.

You've probably heard of 'open' MRIs and many imaging facilities now offer these types of machines. The ones that truely are more open can help reduce a lot of a patient's anxiety or stress. However, some advertised open MRIs are not as open as you might think.

Traditionally, lying on a flat table or bed and sliding into a tube was the MRI exam norm. The size of the tube or the opening around you was the criteria for how 'open' the MRI was - the bigger the tube or it's hole, the more open it was considered to be. The problem with these style machines is the patient still is in a very limited space. In some cases, a patient’s weight or height could even prevent them from getting an MRI even with certain open machines altogether.

As more and more advancements occur in the field, MRIs are providing more and more space around the person's body. It's now possible to actually sit for some MRIs with nothing in front of you. However, the older tube models still exist and they should. They can provide quality images, sometimes even better than the more open models, and that's what might be the most important criteria of all.

Today, even the smallest of tube MRIs are still advertised and labeled as 'open' even if they are just a few inches away from your nose when you're slid in. So it's always good to know what you're getting into before you get into it.

How can you know which MRI machines are open, which are really open and which are really, really open? There are three different types of open MRI machine constructions:

    Semi open high field MRI scanners provide an ultra short bore (tunnel) and widely flared ends. In this type of MRI systems, patients lie with the head in the space outside the bore, if for example the hips are examined. See an example of a semi-open high field MRI scanner here.

    Open low field MRI machines have often a wide open design, e.g. an open C-arm scanner is shaped like two large discs separated by a large pillar. Patients have an open sided feeling and more space around them allows a wider range of positions. See an example of an open low field MRI scanner here.

    Advanced open MRI scanners combine the advantages of both, the high field strength, newest gradient technology and wide open design. Even scans of patients in upright, weight-bearing positions are possible, including sitting or even standing with nothing in front of you. See an example of an advanced open MRI scanner here.

With all this, the best way to know how open the machine for your MRI exam really is would be to call your doctor or imaging facility and ask them if you can take see it in person. It's not out of the question to even give it a test run. Well, maybe a test lying down.

Here is a directory which can help you find and contact many of the MRI facilities nearest to you.

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The future of MRI scanning
is wide open.

MRI technology has dramatically advanced in the past few years and what was once considered an 'open' MRI has even evolved. MRI machines are advancing in new ways to better the image quality, provide faster exam times, lessen the noise from the machine itself and even provide better patient comfort. And not to be all geeky about it, but some of the newer machines look really cool.

Newer open MRI machines differ most to the traditional MRIs in the fact that now, instead of lying on a table and sliding into a narrow tunnel, the table itself has more space all around the patient’s body. Sometimes not even a tube or table at all. With advancements in certain machines, patients are now able to sit or even stand during their MRI exam.

Recently, short bore magnets have been developed that combine the accuracy of a tunnel scanner and the comfort of an open MRI scan. Although they are not completely open, they are much less constrictive because of the short bore magnet (shorter tunnels), but can produce a high-field. This in theory and design can help prevent a lot of unnecessary MRI anxiety and can even allow extremely large patients to be tested.

Search our list of the more popular MRI machines.

The list will include pictures and descriptions for you to reference when talking with an MRI imaging facility or center. Remember, they are only pictures. Only visiting or viewing the actual machine in person will give you the truest understanding of what it is like.

NOTEWORTHY: Open MRI (Open Magnetic Resonance Imaging) use the same, advanced diagnostic imaging procedure as traditional MRI machines. Both create detailed images of internal bodily structures without the use of x-rays, using instead a powerful magnet, radiowaves and a computer. In some cases, these 'open' machines might not provide as good of a quality image as those not so open, but people often feel more comfortable with them. Or rather, in them.

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