magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), noninvasive diagnostic technique that uses nuclear magnetic resonance to produce cross-sectional images of organs and other internal body structures. The patient lies inside a large, hollow cylinder containing a strong electromagnet, which causes the nuclei of certain atoms in the body (especially those of hydrogen) to align magnetically. The patient is then subjected to radio waves, which cause the aligned nuclei to "flip"; when the radio waves are withdrawn the nuclei return to their original positions, emitting radio waves that are then detected by a receiver and translated into a two-dimensional picture by computer. Unhampered by bone and capable of producing images in a variety of planes, MRI is used in the diagnosis of brain tumors and disorders, spinal disorders, multiple sclerosis, and cardiovascular disease. The procedure is considered to be without risk, but the scanner may interfere with pacemakers, hearing aids, or other mechanical devices. Although the images are similar in many ways to those of CAT scans, they are obtained without X rays or other radiation, and generally provide more contrast between normal and abnormal tissue.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.