Monday, January 19, 2009

A trip to the ER - no MRIs with a magnet in your finger

A common question I get asked is "What if you have to get an MRI?" I almost found out the hard way. Following a heavy New Year's Eve celebration, I had abdominal pain. Not out of the ordinary, but in the two days following it worsened and I felt it was time to see a doctor. I went to an emergency clinic, where after a quick examination I was told "You need to go to the ER and get an MRI."

I immediately thought of my implant and asked the doctor if she would be able to remove a foreign body (i.e. the implant) if need be. She believed that it could be shielded, but I would have to ask the imaging technicians at the ER.

Several hours later I found myself getting a CAT scan of my abdomen, which was completely unaffected by the implant. The ER doctors said that an MRI would only be necessary if more detailed imaging were needed. They also said, however, that there was no way to shield the magnet in my finger from the scan, and that it's presence would make an MRI impossible. (The door to the MRI area even plainly stated "NO METALLIC IMPLANTS.")

Eventually I was cleared, given an industrial strength laxative and a clean bill of health, but the experience opened my eyes to some serious situations. What if I had needed an MRI? Would they have been able to quickly remove the implant? What if it had been a time-critical emergency, and I were unconscious? Could having an implant ultimately endanger my life by preventing doctors from acting quickly? What would happen if I were exposed to the machine without removing the implant - would it be torn from my finger or forcefully dragged through tissue?

There are definitely some serious issues that come with a magnetic implant. Don't forget others are in the same boat though, whether through joint replacement surgery or metallic shrapnel, or even an artificial heart. So if you are seriously considering getting a magnetic implant, be sure to weigh and prepare for the possible consequences.


Neba Nebet said...

What would happen if I were exposed to the machine without removing the implant - would it be torn from my finger or forcefully dragged through tissue?

The answer is "yes." That was actually my first concern when Craig mentioned the procedure to me.

Anonymous said...

The same thing would happen to people with braces, and I bet a hospital could safely take out a tiny implant quicker than braces.

Neba Nebet said...


Yes, but they would also need to be aware of the presence of the implant. Braces are pretty obvious. A tiny magnet in the finger of an otherwise healthy person might be missed, especially since it wouldn't be in the person's medical history like a pacemaker or a joint replacement.

Piotr Konopka said...

It's a very interesting topic in implants...
Being a medical student I could tell you, that it is possible that it would be ripped out of your body, but actually isn't 100% sure at all.

It however certainly would hurt like hell and would damage tissue around the implant.
The pulling might not be enough to pull it out, but the EM field would actually heat up the implant, possibly much over what tissues can safely dissipate and withstand - so you'd get burns around the implant inside your body.
The implant also causes other issues - like any metal object it can cause so called 'starburst artifact' which can cause things at the level of implant invisible (so if you hold hand by your side part of your stomach would not be visible)...

Though usually in most cases CAT scan is used first, MRI later if CAT scan was not enough... And even if you were unconscious there are high chances that they implant would be noticeable.

It is a good idea though to have a card with your documents on you saying that you have a metal piece in this finger, and/or having with your stuff a phone number to a person who knows about the implant and will remember to tell doctors about it ;P writing such 'emergency' phone number under name 'ICE' in cellphones is becoming more and more common...