The other issue that can come up is what are called artifacts. Artifacts are when something makes the MRI results harder to read. Metals of any kind can make the magnetic field scatter a bit around them and this results in a weird spot. Doctors can’t see around this spot very well because of the interference.
The appearance of “snow storm” artifacts are actually used to diagnose a burst implant or migration of silicone injection fluid. On an MRI, they look like fuzzy white dots or lines, and they’re hard to see through. So if what you’re looking for is right behind it, forget it.
Silicone jewelry & artifacts
Aside: Never get raw silicone injected into your body. It can cause abscesses, infections, and terrible things. There, I said it.
The problem is called “chemical shift”. If you think of an MRI as a microscope getting focused, the big things to get clear are water and fat. When you get these two into focus, everything else is easier to see. When silicone is present, it can cause a kind focus error, where the water and fat are harder to see clearly.
When MRI folks are working around something like a breast implant, they use special techniques to try and clarify the image. They basically say, “All this stuff is silicone, not fat or water, don’t be confused.” And the MRI focuses accordingly. Without this correction, some lines on your MRI might appear thicker than they should.
In other words, if you’re wearing silicone you might want to think about removing it for the MRI.
The MRI Follow-up About Silicone
After posting my original blog, we got a lot of feedback from Facebook (Shoutout to Facebook users Liz, Larissa, and Megan for their great questions). I decided that a follow-up would be good, since there’s not a lot of information out there on some of these questions.
In a surprising turn, Liz mentioned having images in an MRI spoiled by her silicone eyelets. Silicone, being non-metallic, is totally safe to wear in an MRI, but it can cause significant artifacts. Other users have reported that similar things happen during CT scans and X-rays. How close your jewelry is to the area they are trying to scan is obviously a factor.
I double confirmed this with medical professionals and a review of studies done on silicone in the MRI. Given its use in medical procedures, reducing silicone artifacts is a big deal. It’s particularly a problem with burst breast implants, where an MRI would be ideal for showing the extent of the damage, but the artifacts that the silicone causes in the imagery are an issue.
Since MRIs are expensive, you don’t want to have something in place that will skew results and force you to have a second one done.
Organic jewelry & artifacts
You might think that information would be limited for wood, stone and glass, but it actually isn’t. Thanks to the magic of foreign bodies, aka splinters and such, the effects that these materials have on MRIs is readily known.
Glass is radiopaque, meaning it shows up really solidly on radiographic scans like X-rays and CT scans (Which are really an X-ray variant).
So if you’re wearing glass and going in for this kind of thing, there’ll be a big white spot where the glass is. Great if you have a glass splinter, bad if your doctor is looking for something behind your plugs. But that’s only a problem for something super localized, like right behind whatever glass you’re wearing.
This study and several others that I found tested the ability of different technicians to find foreign bodies imbedded in a sheep’s skull, and include materials like glass, stone, plastic and wood.
In all of the studies I found, I wasn’t able to identify any artifacts caused by these materials. In fact, for finding foreign bodies, the CT scan was actually king. Wood, glass and plastic were all nearly invisible to the MRI, while stone could be seen for reasonably large pieces (Greater than 2mm). I also confirmed with a doctor that none of these materials will create notable artifacts on an MRI.