Did you know that there are different types of MRI machines that clinics and hospitals use all over the world? Two of the most common options that are available today are a 1.5T and a 3T MRI.
The “T” stands for “Tesla,” which is a unit of measurement that describes the strength of the magnet used in the MRI. Magnetic Resonance Imaging isn’t a technology that is associated with Elon Musk. The magnet in the equipment provides the foundation for how internal images of the body develop.
Stronger magnets impact the quality of the image. Several unique factors determine what strength it should be for the person receiving imaging services, including the part of the body that needs scanning.
The 3 Tesla MRI advantages and disadvantages show us that it can be helpful to have stronger magnets available, but it could also create several uses that require management.
List of the Advantages of the 3 Tesla MRI
1. It produces a stronger signal to use for diagnostic purposes.
The most obvious advantage of using a 3T MRI is that the magnet it contains will produce a stronger signal. When the magnetic field is robust, then the signal it receives from body tissues will become more pronounced. This benefits the spatial resolution in the final display, creating an increase in contract detection.
2. It works well for vascular, neurologic, and orthopedic needs.
When someone goes into an MRI scanner, the hydrogen protons in the body start resonating to a specific frequency. The eventual outcome is slightly different in each body part, which means your bones will give off a different outcome than your muscles. Chemical shift is the spatial displacement of water and fat due to those frequency differences.
That means a 3T MRI does a better job of scanning orthopedic, vascular, and neurologic systems in the body. If a facility has a 1.5T MRI, then that equipment is useful for looking at gastrointestinal tracts, coronary issues, and breast health concerns.
3. The 3T MRI can reach deeper body parts and organs better for diagnosis.
Certain body parts and organs, such as the prostate for men and ovaries for women, have locations deep in the body. The prostate provides exceptional challenges with its location surrounded by the pelvis. If the individual doesn’t have a prosthetic implant, then a 3T scanner can easily determine the health and wellness of the items in question. That means it is faster to achieve the images needed to come to a potential diagnosis without dealing with severe artifacts in the images.
4. It enhances the results radiologists can see for severe disease issues.
One of the challenges that doctors, radiologists, and technicians face with MRI scanners is a lack of definition. Some of the telltale markers for diseases or injuries can be small enough to get missed with low-power equipment. The 3T MRI eliminates that issue. The sensitivity, visibility, accuracy, and identification of conditions that involve lesions or metastases is more enhanced with this technology. That makes it easier to get a faster diagnosis for conditions like multiple sclerosis.
5. The patient experience is typically better with a 3T MRI.
An increased focus on improving the patient experience in medicine has led to improvements with magnetic resonance imaging technology. The new 3T MRIs are gentler on the body today since they’ve been ergonomically designed to remove pressure points. That causes less shifting and movement, creating a clearer image that the radiologist can review afterward.
The 3T MRI has enough sensitivity where it could replace traditional approaches, such as taking a biopsy. The need for invasive needles could eventually subside with this technology as high-powered scans become commonplace. It may even help to avoid over-treatment of some conditions or reduce the risk of radiation exposure after surgery.
6. A 3T MRI scans faster than its low-powered competitors.
The 3T MRI can reduce the scan time for a patient without compromising the accuracy of the images. Although safety guidelines must be in place and extreme care must be taken by the staff to manage the system, getting a scan doesn’t need to be an all-day process for patients anymore. You can get in, have the scan done, and then go on with the rest of your day. It also improves the operational efficiency of the imaging center.
This advantage only applies when the 3T MRI can do a job that the 1.5T scanner cannot. If both machines are entirely capable of providing an accurate diagnosis, then the low-powered model offers some cost-savings benefits.
7. It creates a point of differentiation for the imaging center.
If no other medical facility or imaging center has a 3T MRI available, then investing in this equipment will create a natural point of differentiation. Any new investment has the advantage of providing marketing points to consider. Having advanced equipment can draw more patients, secure new referrals, and attract specialty physicians who prefer to use this technology.
If your community lacks access to neurologists or orthopedists, then upgrading to the higher magnet strength could be a fast way to improve the local quality of care.
List of the Disadvantages of the 3 Tesla MRI
1. It is not well-suited to scan patients with implants.
When patients have foreign bodies or implants, then their presence can create an error that we call an “image artifact.” Doctors need to know what the material in the body is to determine if a safety issue might be present. Anything that contains magnetic metal cannot go through an MRI because the equipment could literally tear it out of the body.
As the strength of the magnet increases, so does the issue with the image artifact. The final pictures can have issues that involve the entire imaging area around the implant or foreign body, rendering the work virtually useless.
2. It creates a dielectric effect as a shading artifact.
The dielectric effects cause dark shading artifacts when images of the abdomen or brain are necessary. This issue is quite prevalent on older scanners because of the quality of the coil and presence of the radio-frequency field. It becomes even worse if your body moves or twitches involuntarily during the scanning process. That makes the 3 Tesla MRI less than suitable for some diagnostic procedures, so some doctors might prefer to use a 1.5T scanner instead.
3. It can cause overheating issues in some people.
The Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) is the estimated energy rate that gets absorbed by a volume of tissue when radio-frequency energy is present. It is an issue that occurs in every scanner, but the strength of the 3T MRI’s magnetic field can make some patients feel hot during the scanning process. The FDA regulates how much SAR can receive during an examination in the United States.
Although there are no long-term effects known with SAR, it does cause the body to heat up during the MRI examination. That’s why you’re given a squeeze ball at the start of the exam. If you feel burning sensations with a 3T scanner, then compressing the tool will create an alarm that stops the process.
4. Abdominal gas can create problematic issues for the scanner.
One of the most sensitive images taken during a prostate scan for men is called a “Diffusion.” This item is quite sensitive to chemical shift, so having any gas in the abdominal area will impact the final result. It can be so bad in some cases that the images are not useful and cannot be interpreted by a radiologist. That means a second examination would be necessary to achieve a potential diagnosis.
The best way to avoid issues with this disadvantage of a 3T MRI is to follow every pre-scan patient preparation instruction. Patients should receive a list of requirements from their doctor, the imaging center, or both.
5. Price can be a significant barrier for some institutions.
If you want to purchase a low-field MRI for basic diagnostic benefits, then the cost can be as low as $150,000. Newer models can sometimes run above $1 million. When you want a state-of-the-art 3T MRI scanner, then the price tag can reach $3 million in some areas. That’s why the average patient cost of an MRI in the United States is above $2,600.
The difference between a low-field MRI and a 3T one is massive. The cheapest models provide a 0.3T strength compared to the 3T model. If you add the safety features and the MRI suite to the expense of offering this service, you can double the cost of the investment to $6 million.
6. The maintenance costs of a 3T MRI are higher.
It is essential to note that Medicare, Medicaid, and many insurance companies reimburse the same amount for an MRI regardless of the magnet strength. That means a facility could lose money on some scans when the maintenance costs get factored into the long-term equipment cost. Even if you pick up the equipment on the secondary market, the costs are approximately double what one would pay for 1.5T equipment.
7. Women who are pregnant should not receive a 3T MRI.
If you are pregnant or think that you could be, then a 1.5T MRI is the recommendation most doctors have to achieve a diagnosis. Although there aren’t any proven risks to unborn babies or pregnant women with this technology, the lowest-power option is typically the best solution. An illness or injury is never pleasant under this circumstance, but a healthier mother improves the chances of carrying a pregnancy to term.
When one is necessary, then contrast materials are not typically used during the pregnancy. The only reason why it would be needed is if there are questions to answer that only this tool can supply.
8. You can stay still and still end up with image artifacts.
The 3T MRI has a higher likelihood of having image artifacts appear because of movement. The clarity and crispness of the image is beyond compare, but that level of detail creates problems when blood movement occurs. Any fluids that are in the body can create problems with the image generation. Since you can’t stop your circulatory system from operating, the results might not be as clear as expected after the scanner does its work.
9. The noise from a 3T MRI is significantly higher.
Because the magnet in a 3T MRI is much stronger than in low-powered units, the noise that a patient hears during the scanning process can be significantly loud. If the patient must go into the unit because of the images that are necessary to obtain, then hearing protection might be necessary. Most MRI suites offer music as an option for patients to help them to relax, but the noise from this equipment can be so loud that you can’t hear it despite wearing headphones.
Although there can be several benefits to consider with a 3T MRI, no straight answer is possible when looking for the best overall product. Each diagnostic situation depends on the need for the exam and the patient’s body composition to determine if this or a 1.5T option is the better solution.
If you or your doctor are unsure of the advantage and disadvantages of a 3 Tesla MRI, then speak with a technologist or radiologist familiar with the technology to reach an appropriate outcome.
Natalie Regoli, Esq. is the author of this post and the editor-in-chief of our blog. She received her B.A. in Economics from the University of Washington and her Masters in Law from The University of Texas School of Law. In addition to being a seasoned writer, Natalie has almost two decades of experience as a lawyer and banker. If you would like to reach out to contact Natalie, then go here to send her a message.