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Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) 

MRI scanner at SickKids
MRI scanner at SickKids

An MRI scanner is a large, doughnut-shaped machine with a bed-like surface, which slides into a giant circular magnet. MRI provides a safe way of taking pictures of the inside of the body by using a strong magnet and radio waves, all without using X-rays. 

For a brain, eye or spine MRI, the patient's head or upper body is exposed to radio waves while in a magnetic field. A detailed picture of the brain, optic nerves and spinal cord is produced by energy emitted from tiny molecules inside of the body's cells. A number of short MRI scans or pictures, make up a complete MRI study, which may take as little as 30 minutes up to two hours to complete. 

During the scan, the machine is fairly noisy but the scan does not hurt. Since the MRI scanner is sensitive to metal, it is important to remove all metal items from the body. To produce clear pictures, it is important to hold still for several minutes at a time. In some MRI scanners we have movie goggles that you can use to watch a movie during the procedure. You can also bring a music player to listen during the scan.  

MRI brain scan
Example of an MRI brain scan

How is this information helpful to my doctor and I?

By looking at an MRI of someone who has experienced demyelination a doctor can see where the attack happened in the brain, optic nerves or spine. They can also see how many areas were attacked. The doctor can also see something referred to as “silent lesions” - lesions or scars in the CNS that have not (or not yet) produced noticeable symptoms in the child or teen.