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7-Tesla MRI Static Fields Have Mental Effects

August 30, 2012
Written by: , Filed in: Neuroradiology, Practice Management
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A scary new study finds that just being near a 7-tesla MRI machine—even if it’s not being actively used—can have temporary negative effects on concentration and visuospatial awareness.

The researchers examined what happened when volunteers made standard head movements within the static magnetic field—the field that’s always present, even when the machine isn’t doing a scan. The volunteers were exposed to field levels of 0, 0.5, and 1 tesla.

Then they were given 12 timed cognitive tasks of the sort that might be required of surgeons and other health-care professionals who spend time in the vicinity of an MRI machine. The tasks involved, for example, visual tracking, concentration, and working memory.

Exposure to the magnetic field affected the more general functions, such as attention and concentration, as well as visuospatial awareness. For complex mental tasks, reaction and disengagement times were longer by 5 percent to 21 percent. The greater the magnetic field, the greater the effect. The study noted:

Possible consequences are particularly important for professionals … cleaners, and MRI engineers since they are repeatedly exposed to static magnetic fields.

The study was published online Monday in Occupational & Environmental Medicine.

The researchers found no effect on nonverbal memory and only a small decline in verbal memory. At the highest level of exposure, some study subjects also experienced such physical symptoms as a metallic taste in the mouth, dizziness, and headache. All of the effects, physical and mental, were apparently temporary.

Though 7-tesla machines, the most powerful available, are not yet in standard clinical use, it’s inevitable that they will be. More research is needed, and soon, about these sorts of effects. Having surgeons or radiologic techs or even cleaning staffers becoming addled simply from moving their heads near an MRI machine could obviously lead to disastrous consequences. Would it it even be a good idea for a patient to be driving immediately after a scan?

Unfortunately, as the study says, “The exact implications and mechanisms of these subtle acute effects … remain unclear.”

Related seminar: UCSF Musculoskeletal MR Imaging


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