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The Science Behind an MRI

Why an MRI Works - Nuclei of Hydrogen Atoms

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Introduction - History of MRI

Water constitutes about two thirds of the human body weight, and this high water content explains why magnetic resonance imaging has become widely applicable to medicine. There are differences in water content among tissues and organs. In many diseases the pathological process results in changes of the water content, and this is reflected in the MR image.

Water is a molecule composed of hydrogen and oxygen atoms. The nuclei of the hydrogen atoms are able to act as microscopic compass needles. When the body is exposed to a strong magnetic field, the nuclei of the hydrogen atoms are directed into order – stand "at attention". When submitted to pulses of radio waves, the energy content of the nuclei changes. After the pulse, a resonance wave is emitted when the nuclei return to their previous state.

The small differences in the oscillations of the nuclei are detected. By advanced computer processing, it is possible to build up a three-dimensional image that reflects the chemical structure of the tissue, including differences in the water content and in movements of the water molecules. This results in a very detailed image of tissues and organs in the investigated area of the body. In this manner, pathological changes can be documented.

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