Are MRI scans safe for those with ES?

A reader of Foods Matter magazine recently asked us this question. Since we were unable to answer it ourselves, we asked some of the experts in the field and have printed their advice below.
However, the query sparked a further discussion among those working in the field which we felt that visitors might find useful.

Professor Olle Johansson:
I have talked with a number of EHS people undergoing various such scans, and they said that the scan in itself did not pose any unbearable extras, but that the general hospital environment did cause (minor-to-major) EHS symptoms.
So, best - if possible - to have a very exact time point of examination and stay outdoors until it is time to do it.

Dr David Dowson:
I know that EHS patients worry about this, but I have not come across a single patient who has definitely been affected. I doubt whether X-rays would as the dose is very low. MRI scans can be aborted at a signal from the patient if any effect does occur.

Dr Andrew Goldsworthy:
I'm afraid I don't have any evidence that says that electrosensitive people are more at risk from X-rays and the suchlike.
My personal feeling is that your reader shouldn't let her electrosensitivity get in the way of having the tests that her doctor feels necessary. Unlike, mobile phones etc. the dangers of X-rays are well known and everything possible is done to minimise the dose.

MRI scans involve exposure to microwaves, but the process will probably take less than half an hour (less than many people spend on a single mobile phone call!) and there is normally an alarm that she can activate if she feels unwell during the process. My gut feeling is that the risk from these tests may be low compared with the possible risk to her health of not having her condition properly diagnosed. It may also stop here worrying unnecessarily about her health, which could be just as damaging.

The groups' attention was drawn to a forum on the Trusted MD site which included three years' worth of postings on the side effects (many and various) experienced by the posters and to an interesting blog from the health writer Jon Barron which focused on the cancer risk fro CAT scans but highlit how high the radiation dose could be.

Attention was also drawn to two What Doctors Don't Tell You pieces on MRI scanners (The mri scan - Never say dye and Q&A MRI scans) which quoted various peices of research which had noted possible stimulation in the growth of cancer cells, memory loss and overheating problems.

However, Dr Andrew Goldsworthy commented as follows:

The description of the MRI process (in the WDDTY report) is inaccurate. The magnetic field, although high, is not pulsed. It is a steady field, and steady fields do not generate heat. If they did, we could fill the boilers of our power stations with discarded fridge magnets and live off free power for ever. In fact, the MRI magnet has to be cooled to near absolute zero to work at all! It may help if I explain how the system works.

Almost all the chemicals in our bodies contain hydrogen atoms, the nuclei of which are spinning protons, which are slightly magnetic. When you apply a very strong permanent magnetic field, they align themselves as if their poles were connected to the poles of the magnet by stretched elastic bands.

When you apply a weak microwave pulse (with an SAR value not much greater than that of a mobile phone) the protons wobble and continue wobbling for a short time afterwards. While they are still wobbling, they emit very weak microwaves, the exact frequencies of which depend on the chemical nature of the surrounding atoms. By picking these up and scanning from different angles it is possible to build up a three dimensional picture of the organ under investigation, based on the nature of its chemical components.

A fair analogy is with a stringed instrument such as a violin or a guitar. The strings are under great tension (equivalent to the magnetic field) but it takes only a gentle pluck to make them resonate. The quality of the sound tells us which string has been plucked, whether it is off key, and, if you have a good ear, where along its length it has been plucked.

Obviously, anyone who has become electrosensitive to microwaves stands a chance of being affected by MRI, but the effect is not likely to be much worse than a long mobile phone call. If you do have EHS, by all means discuss it with your doctor to see if alternative diagnostic procedures are available, but don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. These scans can be life savers and the risks are better understood than when the original article was written (the latest reference it contained was 1993).

However, he continues:

With reference ot the posts onthe Trusted MD forum that you mention, there does seem to be a theme running through these peoples' experience - and it looks very much like electrosensitivity, perhaps in people who didn't even know they were electrosensitive. I had an MRI scan of my head a month or two ago with no ill effects, but I am not (yet) electrosensitive.

The experience is not helped by being isolated in the machine with the operators tucked away in a shielded control room, which gives the impression that the scan itself is dangerous. We have to remember that they are there because they need to avoid long term exposure.

Incidentally, the odd noises are due to the vibration of the scanning coils as they deliver their microwaves in the intense magnetic field, but it's best not to know that!

Apart from the electromagnetic effects, the whole process is stressful and my guess is that there is some sort of synergy going on. Having said that, although there is a long list of people with side effects on the site, there may be very many more who, like me, have nothing to report so we get the impression that the incidence of side effects is far greater than it really is. I think I would still follow the advice of Olle Johhansson and David Dowson and tell people not to worry about the procedure. It may be uncomfortable or even painful for some, but the risks of not having one may be worse.

Homepath, Patty Hemmingway commented:

I have had an MRI as has my son and I also treat people who have had MRI scans, and the magnetic field does make a difference at cell level. How people recover depends on what they do to prepare themselves for the MRI and how effectively they eliminate the residual magnetic fields and other radiation from their system. There are several homeopathic remedies or vibrational remedies (produced by Gary Johnson) which are helpful in enabling this detox. Predisposition also seems to play a part, and some people will walk away from any experience unscathed because they have no underlying condition.

My experience of an MRI scan was that it involved more than a strong magnetic field. They also used radio waves and there were strong electrical fields from all the equipment. In addition there are contrast dyes used. I felt the heating effect on tissue and asumed there were microwaves involved too. The magentic field changes cell polarity although the literature claims that this returns to 'normal' as soon as the magnetic field is switched off. How do they know that this is the case for everyone? I have always needed help to recover from magnetic fields.

As with most things, I expect the answer lies in understanding individual susceptibility. I agreed to the MRI scan because I wanted to rule out a potentially lethal condition, so on that basis it seemed like a calculated risk. However, my cardiologist said that they managed to diagnose serious conditions wirthout the aid of MRIs in the years before they were developed, so I expect no-one should feel obliged to agree, and that the patient can still ask what other means of diagnosis exist? I have met several people with musculo-skeletal complaints who refused an MRI and healed perfectly, sometimes with help from a cranial osteopath.


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