MRI Scans and the Risks Associated with Magnets and Metallic Objects


MRI scans (magnetic resonance imaging) have become a crucial diagnostic tool in the medical field, providing detailed images of the body’s internal structures. However, recent incidents highlight the importance of caution when it comes to magnets and metallic objects in the MRI scanner.

In Wisconsin, a 57-year-old woman suffered an unfortunate injury during an MRI scan. Unbeknownst to the medical staff, she had a concealed firearm, which was triggered by the powerful magnet of the machine, causing it to discharge. This incident is not an isolated case, as earlier this year, a lawyer in Brazil lost his life when a gun tucked in his waistband discharged into his abdomen during an MRI scan.

The concept of MRI dates back to the 1930s, with the first patient scan occurring in 1977. Today, around 95 million MRI scans are performed annually, offering a safe and effective means of diagnosis without exposure to harmful ionizing radiation.

However, there are certain concerns associated with MRI scans. The loud noise produced by the machines, reaching up to 100 decibels, can be bothersome for some patients, but earplugs are typically provided to address this issue. Additionally, individuals with claustrophobia may experience difficulty tolerating long periods inside the MRI machine.

MRI works by generating powerful magnetic fields that cause the protons in the body to move, enabling scientists to differentiate between various types of tissue. However, the strength of these magnets poses risks. They can attract metallic objects from anywhere in the vicinity and cause damage by heating the items, potentially leading to burns.

To mitigate these risks, strict guidelines govern MRI scans, requiring patients to complete questionnaires to identify potential metallic objects or medical history factors that could pose a danger. Previously, individuals with pacemakers or other implanted electronic devices faced heightened risks, but specialized procedures have been implemented to ensure their safety. Additionally, modern devices are less likely to contain iron and be affected by magnetic forces.

Foreign metallic objects within the body also pose significant risks. In one case, a patient with schizophrenia, who had ingested metal sockets and a hinge pin, suffered a severe injury to his stomach during an MRI scan. Similarly, a child experienced bowel perforation after ingesting several small magnets.

Another risk is tissue loops, where parts of the body contact each other and create a loop that can heat tissue to dangerous levels. Although uncommon, patients are positioned carefully to reduce the chances of this occurrence. While hospitals and clinics have measures in place to restrict the proximity of metallic objects to the MRI suite, there have been instances where these protocols were not followed.

Tragically, there have been incidents where the powerful magnets of the MRI machines have caused fatalities. In one case, an Indian man carrying an oxygen cylinder was pulled into the machine, resulting in his death. Similarly, a South Korean man lost his life when an oxygen cylinder in the MRI room was pulled into the machine, crushing his skull.

Moreover, people with metallic fragments in their eyes are at a high risk. These individuals, often manual laborers or military veterans, may have undetected microscopic metal shards in their eyes from activities like hammering or drilling. During an MRI scan, these fragments can twist and align with the magnetic field, causing bleeding, excruciating pain, and even blindness.

Despite these risks, MRI scans offer numerous benefits that outweigh the potential dangers. Advancements such as functional MRI (fMRI) enable doctors and researchers to observe brain activity and track the progression of diseases like Alzheimer’s. These machines also aid in the discovery of new drugs and the study of anatomy, including during sexual activity.

To ensure safety during MRI scans, it is crucial for patients to be honest and forthcoming when answering the pre-scan questionnaire. Disclosing any relevant information, no matter how trivial it may seem, can help prevent potential harm. MRI scans are powerful tools that, when used correctly, contribute significantly to medical diagnostics and research.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it