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MRI Health Risks: Beware the Magnetized Projectile

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Rochester, NYWhile concerns over MRI kidney through the use of MRI contrast side effects are well-known, there is also a sense amongst many in the general population that MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) carries the same risks for radiation as CT scans and x-ray. This is not the case. MRI is considered safe with few MRI health risks, save for those with impaired kidney function who may experience lingering adverse health effects due to the use of gadolinium-based contrast agents, which may not be expeditiously expelled by the human body without intervention by way of MRI dialysis.

However, there is another concern—and one that depends on the professionalism and thoroughness of medical professionals and support staff to prevent injuries not from radiation—but from the powerful magnetic forces impacting metallic objects.

In most cases doctors, nurses and support staff are extremely careful about managing MRI cases and the immediate environment, to ensure there are no metallic objects that could serve as instant projectiles, or cause harm to a patient internally.

But there have been horrendous accidents over the years.

In 2001 a six-year-old boy was killed after an oxygen tank, inexplicably brought into the MRI chamber, became magnetized and flew through the air at 20 to 30 feet per second, fatally fracturing the boy's skull.

Even paperclips can become instant projectiles, causing injury in the MRI room. One patient who neglected to pull a hairpin out of her hair prior to her MRI, required surgery to remove the hairpin after it was propelled up her nose and lodged in her pharynx.

One patient died after an implanted aneurysm clip in her brain was dislodged by the powerful magnetic force of the MRI.

In Rochester New York, in 2000, as a police officer was standing close by, the MRI machine pulled the gun from his hand and the gun fired—luckily—into a wall. No one was injured.

Such accidents do not take away from the general safety of MRI, when compared to other procedures such as CT scan and x-ray. Hospitals and medical centers providing MRI facilities have checklists, with thoroughness akin to an airline cockpit, in an effort to ensure there are no metallic objects in the room, on the patient or implanted within the patient, that could serve to do harm.

But in a study concerning the potential damage of oxygen tanks, according to a New York Times article from 2001, researchers found that there were five such accidents within a 15-year window, but four occurred during the previous three years 1999 to 2001—mostly involving patients on life support who had been wheeled into an MRI room with an oxygen tank nearby.

Of the various MRI health risks, projectiles are rarely talked about—probably because the incidents are rare. To that end Dr. Gregory Chaljub, a radiologist at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston and the study's primary researcher, maintained in The New York Times article, "MRI is safe, but if something goes wrong, it can go very wrong."


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Not certain who wrote this article, the level of expertise on the subject matter, or where the individual got their information, but we need to correct some of the obvious embellishments or sensationalism.
1. There is no such animal as "MRI dialysis" - dialysis is dialysis and is not accomplished with the aid of MRI.
2. MRI scanners are operated by registered MRI Technologists, not doctors, nurses, or support staff who are not qualified by virtue of the fact that they do not have the education or experience to do so. MRI Technologists operate the equipment 'UNDER THE DIRECTION' of a Radiologist, and MRI Technologists are responsible for permitting ONLY those INDIVIDUALS who have been PROPERLY SCREENED to enter Zones 3 & 4 of the MRI facility.
3. Accidents do happen in all industries, notwithstanding MRI, and are usually due to companies cutting costs and usurping sound practice principles, inattentiveness, complacency and people (patients) who think they are the "experts" and don't feel as though they have to follow the rules. At our facility, and many others I have spoken with, we tell our patients at the time we make the appointment, and during a subsequent call when we confirm their appointment, not to wear jewelry or hairpins, and yet they still show up with tons of jewelry and hairpins and give us an attitude when they are asked - a third and fourth time - to remove such articles before entering Zones 3 & 4. We tell all our patients this for two reasons: safety, and if the jewelry becomes lost or misplaced the first thing patients do is accuse us and we don't want that liability. That being said, we have two offices with distinctly two separate addresses which don't even, remotely, sound alike, but 30 or 40% of our patients go to the wrong office where MRI is not performed. PEOPLE JUST DON'T LISTEN OR THEY HAVE THEIR OWN AGENDA.
4. One of the statements, to wit: "One patient who neglected to pull a hairpin out of her hair prior to her MRI, required surgery to remove the hairpin after it was propelled up her nose and lodged in her pharynx.", sounds incredulous and like someone is embellishing/sensationalizing. I suppose anything can happen, but if the hairpins are located in the hair on a persons head, as the patient is being moved into the MRI Scanner - head- or feet-first - the hairpins experience an ever increasing field strength and will tend to go DIRECTLY into the magnet and COME TO REST AGINST THE WALL OF THE MAGNET - it may bounce off the wall of the magnet before it comes to rest, but it will not do a loopy loop up a patient's nose, as this statement suggests.
Many years ago, when I was working in New York City on an "Open Magnet" with a field strength of 0.2T, one of my patients was a dumb ass NYPD Officer. He was thoroughly and properly instructed to remove his clothing and any jewelry other than his wedding band and informed that he could not bring any metallic objects or electronic equipment into the MRI environment.
Being a NYPD Officer, which I was not initially aware of, who carries a service weapon which is never to be left unattended, he stuffed his gun, unbeknownst to me, in the waistband of his underwear.
When I went to escort him into the MRI Room, I made a last visual check to ensure that he had followed my directions of getting properly changed into one of our gowns and had removed all jewelry/metal objects.
As I was driving the table into the magnet, all of a sudden I saw something move around this officer's waistband, and before I could finish my statement (What is that?) his service weapon slammed up against the upper magnet wall.
I chewed him out, royally, explaining that as a police officer he should be abundantly aware of the importance of following instructions. I also indicated that although he might be a police officer, being in my facility under my care, I am in charge, not him, and when I give specific instructions, I expect them to be followed.
I further explained, after learning the gun was loaded, that I didn't give a damn about his family jewels (not the exact words I used, but you get the idea) had the gun gone off, he could have killed the person on the other side of the glass panel to the shared MRI/CT Console room.
Who, even with half a modicum of intelligence, would think someone would stuff a gun in their underwear right next to the family jewels? It takes all kinds!
Although we MRI Technologists do our best to prevent accidents, and we are held accountable for any adverse events that occur while patients are under our care.
Patients bear some level of responsibility when they are of the mind-set that they don't have to follow the rules and instructions the facility and we explicitly provide.


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