The use of MRI scanning in everyday emergency medicine practice remains uncommon, certainly outside the teaching hospital environment. However, most Trusts now have access to such a facility, either permanently on-site or from visiting mobile units. In the drive for greater efficiency and speedy diagnosis, emergency physicians are increasingly seeking the support of this modality to accelerate diagnosis.

MRI can be used to image any area of the body, but it has particular value in assessing the integrity of the brain and spinal cord, where it can deliver information not available via other routes within the timeframe open to the emergency department (ED).

History of MRI

MRI first became available to clinicians in the early 1990s, although its origins go as far back as 1938, when American physicist Isidor Rabi first noted that molecular spin could be re-orientated in a magnetic field, work for which he received the Nobel Prize in physics in 1944. Using these principles, the first MRI image was created in 1978 by Mansfield and Maudsley [1].

Subsequent work to improve image quality centred around magnet and cooling systems and the development of contrast media to improve image definition. The contrast agent gadolinium DPTA (diethylenetriamine penta-acetic acid) was first licensed for brain and spinal imaging in 1990.

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