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What is an open MRI? How does it compare to stand-up MRIs?

Key takeaways:

  • Open MRIs can provide greater patient comfort. 
  • Open MRIs are a viable option for patients unable to have a traditional MRI.
  • A traditional MRI or 3T MRI may produce higher quality images.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has no harmful radiation and is therefore safer than other forms of imaging such as X-rays and CT scans. It provides better quality images of your body’s soft tissues such as organs, blood vessels, fat tissue, muscle, lymph vessels and fibrous tissues like tendons and ligaments. It’s also useful in assessing the blood flow to your organs. MRI scans may help spot abnormalities that might indicate injuries, cancer, and aneurysms. 

Yet for many claustrophobic patients, the thought of having an MRI brings feelings of dread. And if you’re even slightly larger than average, you may worry about the dimensions of the machine’s cylinder and whether you will fit. Plus, if you’re living with pain, you may not be able to lie flat. Fortunately, there are other options available, including the open MRI, and the stand-up MRI.

Open MRI benefits.

Depending on the vendor, an open MRI scanner may be open on 2-3 sides. In some open MRI scanners, the bed is on a flat platform with one part of the magnet above and the other part of the magnet below. Not only is the configuration open on at least two sides at all times — there is room between your body and the magnet above you as well.

The main advantage of an open MRI is increased care access. For patients who cannot tolerate or fit into a traditional MRI, an open MRI is an option. Here are a few situations when you might consider an open-MRI or a stand-up MRI:

Open MRI accommodates most body types.

Open MRI: overweight man writing in his notebook

Considering traditional MRIs have a “bore” or opening of only 23.6 inches, this might be concerning for someone with a larger build. Because the open MRI is open on at least two sides at all times, it is more accommodating of different body types.

Open MRI may prevent claustrophobia and the need for sedation.

Claustrophobia is an anxiety disorder in which you may experience an irrational fear of being enclosed. Since traditional MRIs require you to be in a tunnel with a small opening for much of the test, it may trigger this anxiety. 

An open MRI can help relieve feelings of claustrophobia, thanks to the imaging machine’s open “airy” design. Because you can look into the room around you and feel the air circulating, being in an open MRI doesn’t trigger panic the way conventional MRI scanners do. 

If you are prone to anxiety, a traditional MRI might require sedation or anti-anxiety medication. However, an open MRI may be a better option.

Open MRIs are quieter.

Traditional MRIs consist of metal coils that vibrate when they receive pulses of electricity. Because they are inside a metal compartment, the vibrations resonate as sound waves. You may experience the sounds as loud, low-frequency sounds similar to the beating of a metal drum. 

MRI scanners are loud. The noise levels you experience compare to being at a rock concert with volumes as high as 110 decibels. Earplugs offer protection and are safe to use for an MRI scan, but they may interfere with necessary communication between you and your radiology technologist.

Since they don’t have an enclosed tunnel or walls, open MRIs are quieter. Some newer models of open MRIs have decreased the noise levels to less than 25 decibels for an average MRI scan. This is great news if you have sensitive hearing or if loud noises trigger anxiety or migraine headaches. 

Open MRIs reduce the need for sedation in children and adults with special needs.

Diagnostic imaging in pediatrics is valuable but is not without its challenges. Traditional MRIs performed on young children often require sedation. If a radiologist decides it is safe, a parent or caregiver may stay in the room to support the child during the scan. The same is true for adults with special needs.

Open MRIs are ideal for use on children and some adults with developmental disabilities and may decrease the need for sedation in these patient groups.

Open upright MRIs (stand-up MRIs).

Another type of open MRI machine is a stand-up MRI, also called an “open upright MRI”, scans your body while in a fully upright, standing, tilted (lying down with the head elevated), or other position. This technology can help fulfill your imaging needs if you cannot lie flat.

Open upright stand-up MRIs are more accessible to those with limited mobility.

Woman in a wheelchair

If you suffer from pain, stiffness, or back pain, you may not be able to lie flat on your back for a full, traditional scan. You might consider a stand-up MRI or open upright MRI.

Open upright MRIs provide better images of positional injuries.

Since the open upright MRI can scan while you’re in different positions, it has the potential to detect problems that traditional MRI scanners might miss. 

Open upright MRI systems allow for more flexible positioning and may be able to find abnormalities in difficult-to-view areas. For example, one study shows that MRI scans taken with knee flexion helped detect lesions consistent with anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears more often than traditional MRI scans taken with the knee extended. 

Where open MRIs and stand-up MRIs fall short.

The major disadvantages of open MRI scanners are that many have lower magnetic field strength, produce poorer quality images than closed MRIs or traditional MRI systems, and may require longer examination times.

The latest open scanners offer high magnetic field strengths and high-quality images. However, due to cost, open stand-up MRI imaging systems are not yet widely available in the United States. Furthermore, your insurance plan may not cover the scan unless you can prove it is a medical necessity.  

The 3T wide-bore MRI.

All Ezra partner facilities offer 3T MRIs. This is the most advanced MRI machine technology, with magnets 2X the power of a traditional MRI, and magnets as much as 15X higher than those from an open MRI. 

These closed high magnetic field scanners have shorter tunnels and larger wide bore cylinders. They offer some major improvements over traditional MRIs by providing more room and comfort and the highest quality images. A 3T MRI takes less time to complete, than an open MRI.

3T MRIs are not yet standard in many facilities due to the cost of the technology and machinery. That said, Ezra only offer their Ezra Scans on 3T MRIs and therefore only partners with facilities who have 3T MRI machines. 

Choosing the right MRI for you.

Not everyone has easy access to open MRIs and stand-up scanners. Since some insurance plans don’t cover elective tests, cost may be a factor. If you want to pay for an MRI out of pocket, learn more about how much MRIs cost in markets across the United States.

It only takes a few minutes to book a scan with Ezra designed to give you a look inside your body for signs of potential cancer or early diseases. The Ezra Full Body covers up to 13 organs, takes approximately one hour and costs as little as $180/month. 

Ezra offers fixed pricing that includes all fees as well as flexible payment plans and the ability to use your health savings account or flexible savings account dollars. If you have questions about an Ezra Scan, one of our Care Advisors is here to help. Contact us at (888) 402-3972 or hello@ezra.com, and a member of our Care Team will respond as soon as possible.