Risks Associated with MRI Scans

Risks Associated with MRI Scans

Risks Associated with MRI Scans

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What are the risks associated with MRI Scans?

From a practical point of view,  there are few medical risks.  MRI’s do not utilize radiation.  Unless there is use of a dye,  it is completely noninvasive. Most patients can tolerate the procedure well.

But, certain patients do have some medical risks associated with MRI Scans.  If you have had any metal device implanted in your brain, or heart, such as cardiac stents,  brain aneurysm clips, or coils,  or metallic implants in your ears or eye,  you should avoid MRI’s as the magnetic forces can potential cause movement of these devices.

In addition,  some metallic implants such as pace makers, defibrillators and implanted pumps can malfunction with the magnetic.

But,  some of the other risks are not necessarily medical in nature.

If you are in the process of applying for disability, life insurance or health insurance,  some policy underwriters will use the prior history of MRI testing as a risk factor, and may cause increase to your premium.

If you have been in an auto accident, a prior history of MRI testing of certain areas may subject you to scrutiny regarding a pre-existing condition.

Finally,  from the pure statistical standpoint,  we know that most people will have MRI evidence of structural abnormalities to the spine, and the knees and shoulders.  Many of these structural abnormalities can be completely asymptomatic, and not necessarily the cause of any pain or discomfort.  But,  once you have an MRI,  and an abnormality is identified,  there is a much greater likelihood you will have surgical management for that finding,  even if you have complete recovery of your pain from the time of the MRI study.    The reason is not that aggressive surgeons will recommend surgery for the problem.  The reason is that you, the patient, will assume any future pains are secondary to the finding on the MRI.  Over time,  you may request surgical management of the finding,  even if the complaints are not completely consistent with the findings on the MRI.  So,  even if your original surgeon will decline to offer the operation,  you can usually find someone who will perform the surgery.  I am not suggesting the second surgeon performed an unneccessary surgery.  But,  I am saying the original surgeon will likely suggest waiting for it to improve (as it has in the past),  while the next surgeon,  not understanding that history,  will offer the surgery.   The outcome can still be excellent,  but, there is a chance that waiting a bit longer may have also corrected the underlying complaints.  Controversial statement,  I know.  But, I see this everyday.

So,  before you get an MRI of your body,  please discuss the necessity of the MRI with your physician.  Not only can the study be expensive, and cause some complications for certain patients,  but it can also result in higher incidents of surgery, and higher insurance prices when your health history is being examined.

Citations

  • Svanbergsson G, Ingvarsson T, Arnardóttir RH. [MRI for diagnosis of low back pain: Usability, association with symptoms and influence on treatment]. Laeknabladid. 2017 Januar;103(1):17-22. PubMed PMID: 28497766

Submit a Comment

  1. Dear Dr. Shim,

    It appears to me that MRI scans are commonly ordered by spine surgeons to assist with diagnosis. I never thought about the possibility that MRI scans could be overly used until I read your blog post. Thank you for sharing your insight.

    1. Dr. Wang,

      It is not that scanning has been shown to cause any physical harm by itself. But, there are other ramifications of just knowing about a condition. With the spine, findings may or may not have anything to do with your current complaints. If they are not correlated with your complaints, it is likely to confuse the issues, or cause non-medical ramifications. Thanks for your comments.

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Chief of Surgery, Mease Countryside and Mease Dunedin Hospitals, Safety Harbor and Dunedin, Florida. 2014-2016.

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The information provided on this website does not provide or should be considered medical advice. It is not a substitute for diagnosis or treatment of any condition. The information provided is for informational purposes only. You should not rely solely on the information provided on this website in making a decision to pursue a specific treatment or advice. You should consult directly with a professional healthcare provider.

As a condition of using the information on this website, ShimSpine and its physicians are not responsible for any advice, diagnosis, treatment or outcome you may obtain.

ShimSpine.com is completely self-funded. No outside funds are accepted or used. This website does not utilize paid advertising as a source of revenue.
Outpatient Spine Surgery Considerations. www.Spine-Health.com. January 2016.

What is Spinal Stenosis? www.Spine-Health.com. October 2015.

Surgeon insights on the Changing Landscape of Orthopedic Care. OrthopedicToday. June 2014

Chapter 33: Interspinous Spacers. Shim JH, Mazza JS, Kim DH Published in Minimally Invasive Percutaneous Spinal Techniques. Elsevier Health Sciences, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Published 2011)

Chapter 35: Minimally Invasive Percutaneous Lumbar Fusion Technique.Shim JH, Mazza JS, Kim DH Published in Minimally Invasive Percutaneous Spinal Techniques. Elsevier Health Sciences, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Published 2011)

March 2010 Minimally Invasive Transforaminal Lumbar Interbody Fusion American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons Annual Meeting New Orleans, Louisiana February 2010

February 2010 A Review of Dynamic Stabilization in the Lumbar Spine Selby Spine Symposium; Park City, Utah

November 2009 Lumbar Spinal Stenosis Community Based Lecture; Tampa, Florida

September 2009 Instructor/Proctor Minimally Invasive Lumbar Cadaver Lab; Tampa, Florida

February 2009 New Spinal Technology: Cervical Disc Replacement and Interspinous Spacers. Selby Spine Symposium; Park City, Utah

February 2008 The Degenerative Spine: The Role of Dynamic Lumbar Stablization and Interspinous Spacers Selby Spine Symposium; Park City, Utah

October 2008 Emerging Technology and Techniques in Spinal Surgery Orthopaedics in the 21st Century Symposium; Morton Plant Mease Healthcare; Largo, Florida

September 2007 Emerging Technology in Spinal Surgery Orthopaedics in the 21st Century Symposium; Morton Plant Mease Healthcare; Largo, Florida

October 2006 Emerging Technology and Techniques in Spinal Surgery Orthopaedics in the 21st Century Symposium; Morton Plant Mease Healthcare; Largo, Florida

May 2005 The Role of Kyphoplasty in the Treatment of Vertebral Compression Fractures Mease Neurosciences Symposium; Clearwater, Florida
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