X-ray technology was considered revolutionary when it was introduced just over 100 years ago. Today, the x-ray is only one of many diagnostic imaging tools, which includes the MRI, or (magnetic resonance imaging) whose technology was first introduced 30 years ago. The Outer Banks Hospital has offered mobile MRI services since opening in 2002, however with the installation of its new fixed MRI, the service will be available 5 days a week. “Because the level of detail with an MRI is extraordinary, physicians often request this test,” said Van Smith, President of The Outer Banks Hospital. “We are pleased to expand our days of service to better accommodate our patients.”

“The GE 1.5T high definition Signa MRI scanner is state-of-the-art,” said Dr. Lysle K. Ailstock, Medical Director of the Imaging Department at The Outer Banks Hospital. “In addition, all MRI scans are interpreted by fellowship trained radiologists with specific expertise in MRI. Their expertise offers our patients a high level of confidence by providing scans that are the highest in quality, accuracy and safety.”

Some of the reasons a physician may order an MRI is to diagnose infections in the brain, spine or joints; to visualize torn ligaments in the wrist, knee and ankle or shoulder injuries; to evaluate masses in the soft tissue; to evaluate bone tumors, cysts and bulging or herniated discs; and to diagnose strokes.

But what is an MRI and what should a patient expect? Referred to as a big “donut,” the machine is large tube with a magnet running from front to back. The patient, lying on his or her back, slides into the tube on a special table. Once the body part that is to be scanned is in the exact center of the magnetic field, the scan begins.

But what is all that chirping and clanging, the patient may wonder. The MRI works with the body’s own magnetic field, lining up the hydrogen atoms in the direction of the magnetic field created by the machine. Then the machine directs a radio frequency pulse toward the area of the body to be examined. The pulse causes the hydrogen atoms in that area to spin in a different direction. This is the “resonance” part of the MRI. At approximately the same time, the magnet jumps into the act, turning on and off very rapidly, altering the main magnetic field in the specific area to be scanned. The resulting image is transmitted to the computer screen.

The original MRI scanner, the “Indomitable” is now housed in the Smithsonian Institution; it took almost 5 hours to produce one image. Today’s machines have compressed that time into minutes. And because the technology is still in its infancy, perhaps in the future, MRI scans will be a matter of seconds, not minutes.