MRI and fMRI scans are tools used by medical professionals to create static images of a body’s internal anatomy. They can be very useful in making diagnoses, but many people don’t necessarily understand what they are, let alone the difference between the two. Here is what you should know:

What’s an MRI?

Magnetic Resonance Imaging, or MRI, is a variety of medical imaging that uses strong magnetic fields to create images of organs. Unlike CT scans or PET scans, MRIs do not use x-rays.


MRIs can be used to assess various parts of the body, such as the brain and spinal cord, bones, heart, liver, and kidneys. By creating an image of the organ in question, doctors are able to diagnose issues with that organ.

What’s an fMRI?

FMRI stands for Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging. This is a type of MRI that specifically looks at the part of the brain that handles critical functions. It measures small changes in the blood flow during brain activity.

What are they used for?

Standard MRIs can be used to assess a variety of organs by providing medical professionals with images of the scanned organ. For example, a scan of the brain and spinal cord can show evidence of:


  • Cancer
  • Stroke
  • Brain injury
  • Multiple Sclerosis


MRIs can be used to create an image of any organ, not just the brain. They can assess the function of whatever they’re pointed at.


An fMRI  is slightly more specialized, in that it monitors brain activity according to blood flow. By measuring changes in blood flow in certain parts of the brain, doctors are able to assess the function of certain areas. This can help with things like assessing the damage done by a stroke, or detecting structural anomalies in the brain.

How do you prepare for an MRI?

MRIs and fMRIs are both noninvasive procedures and are completely painless. An MRI machine is shaped kind of like a donut. The patient lays down and is moved to the middle of the circle—the “hole” of the donut.


Once inside, the patient will hear a lot of noise: rhythmic thumping and tapping. This is a little disconcerting, but not harmful. If it is a problem for the patient, they can be given headphones that contain no metal in order to block out the sounds.


That’s the other main thing: no metal is allowed in the MRI machine. Since the machine works using magnetic fields, the presence of metal can interfere with the machine’s functioning. That means no watches, belt buckles, underwire bras, etc. Make sure you don’t have any metal on you when it’s time for an MRI!


MRIs and fMRIs can seem a little intimidating, but they really don’t have to. By doing your research and listening to your doctor, you can have an easy, anxiety-free MRI experience.


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