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Decoding MRI Technology: The Differences Between 3T and 1.5T Scans Explained

Decoding MRI Technology: The Differences Between 3T and 1.5T Scans Explained
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MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) has become an essential part of medical imaging. As a non-invasive test that produces higher-quality images than CT tests without using harmful ionising radiation, MRI is the preferred test for imaging soft tissues like the brain and spinal cord.

However, MRI tests are not equal. Based on magnetic field strength (measured in Tesla), there are two common types of MRI scans—1.5T MRIs and 3T MRIs. 

While going to a hospital or imaging centre for an MRI scan should be straightforward, the different types of MRI scans can make things a little complex. All of a sudden, you’ll find yourself asking, which MRI scan should I do, a 1.5T MRI or a 3T MRI?

This article will make it a little easier for you when you have to choose between a 1.5T MRI and a 3T MRI. We will look at the difference between the two MRI technologies, including the pros and cons of each one.

Differences between 3T and 1.5T scans

3T MRI and 1.5T MRI scans differ significantly in terms of:
  • Image quality
  • Test speed
  • Safety
  • Cost
  • Accessibility

Comparison : 3T vs 1.5T scans.
Let’s explore them in detail. 

Image quality: 3T MRI is twice as strong for better quality images 

First, the “T” in 1.5T or 3T MRI scans is Tesla—the measure of the strength of the magnetic field produced by the MRI scanner. So, the magnetic field of a 3T MRI scanner is twice as “strong” as that of a 1.5T MRI scanner.

Since a 3T MRI machine has twice the magnetic field strength of a 1.5T MRI machine, the 3T scanner provides more signals. The improved signal-to-noise ratio helps it achieve higher spatial resolution when producing images of the body’s internal structures.

The result is that 3T MRI scans reduce image noise to produce higher-quality images of the body’s internal structures.

This is not to say that 1.5T MRI scans produce poor imaging results. 1.5T MRI scanners produce high-quality images. It’s just that 3T is a more advanced MRI technology with superior imaging capabilities. 

In medical imaging, the higher the image clarity, the more accurate the diagnosis will be. This is because scans providing clearer images are more sensitive to tiny lesions and provide more information about the internal structure examined. 

Thus, the extremely clear and vivid images of 3T MRI scans allow for the most accurate patient diagnoses.

This makes 3T MRI ideal when small details are crucial, such as examinations of blood, brain, bone marrow, vascular structures, small bones, and more.

Test speed: 3T MRI offers faster imaging for a more comfortable experience

Having twice the magnetic strength of 1.5T MRI scanners not only helps 3T scanners produce higher resolution images but also helps them create these clearer images faster.

The faster imaging of 3T MRI scans has a number of benefits, with one being a more comfortable experience for patients.

When MRI equipment produces images quickly, patients will spend less time inside it. As anyone who has done an MRI before will tell you, time inside an MRI machine is usually not enjoyable.

The machine makes banging noises that you have to bear every second you spend inside it. But that’s only part of the problem. You’ll need to lie still throughout the scanning process, as moving can make scan images blurry.

Unclear images make diagnoses difficult. So, moving even slightly during the procedure often results in repeated imaging. This means more time in the MRI machine and more inconvenience for you.

Safety: The stronger magnets of 3T scanners are not for everyone

MRI scans are generally safe. Very safe. However, they are usually not the best imaging tests for patients with metallic implants, as these devices can be affected by the powerful magnet of the machine.

Generally, the stronger the MRI scanner’s magnet, the less safe it is for patients with implants. For this reason, people with implants are safest in 1.5T scanners. In fact, implants safe in 1.5T MRI may not be in 3T.

Then, there’s the small matter of specific absorption rate (SAR) - the rate at which the body absorbs energy during an MRI scan. The more energy the body absorbs, the more heat is produced.

When you have tattoos (especially ones made with inks that conduct electricity), the heat produced as your body absorbs energy in the MRI machine may burn your skin.

This risk (tattoo-induced skin burn during an MRI) is very small with 1.5T MRI scans. But it becomes more serious with 3T scans because the machine’s stronger magnetic field makes the body absorb more energy and generate about 4 times more heat than in a 1.5T machine.

However, this doesn’t mean that a 3T scan is a no-no if you have even the tiniest tattoo. The scan may still be fine for you, depending on the size, location, and even the ink of your tattoo. 

Cost: 3T MRI is a more advanced technology and costs more

More often than not, more advanced technologies come at higher costs. 

Unfortunately, that applies to the MRI scanners. 3T scanners are 30- 40% more expensive than 1.5T scanners. 

They are also more expensive to service, as they require more specialised technicians for servicing, and their components cost more.

As a result of the higher cost of acquiring and maintaining 3T scanners, 3T MRI scans cost considerably more than 1.5T MRI scans.

Accessibility: 1.5T MRIs are still the standard and are more readily available

Because 3T MRI machines cost more to acquire and maintain, they are less commonly available, as they are often beyond the reach of many healthcare facilities purchasing expensive medical equipment.

What is more, 1.5T machines are adequate for most MRI scans. As a result, 1.5T MRIs remain the standard today. These lower-field strength MRI scanners are more readily available in imaging centres.

3T vs 1.5T MRI scans, which is better?

When it comes to imaging tests, none is better. The choice of any test depends on various factors, including the specific medical condition being investigated, patient comfort, risk factors, and budget. 

So, which of 3T or 1.5T MRI scans is better depends on these factors.

For example: 

  • The imaging quality of a 3T scan is better than that of a 1.5T scan. This makes 3T scans better for examinations where small details need to be looked at. This includes small bones MRI, neurological MRI, musculoskeletal MRI, vascular MRI, and breast MRI.
  • The higher field strength of 3T scans makes 3T MRI better for visualising structures deep in the human body (like the prostate) and for visualising internal structures of overweight patients with high body mass.
  • A 3T scan has a shorter scan time, making it better for patients who desire to minimise the discomfort and inconvenience of the procedure.
  • The lower field strength of 1.5T scans makes them better for patients with implants.
  • When budget is a consideration, 1.5T MRI scans are better because a 3T scan will cost you almost double what a 1.5T scan will cost you.
  • If you want quicker access to an MRI scan, a 1.5T scan may be better, as imaging centres with these scanners are easier to find.

Summarily, the pros and cons of 3T and 1.5T MRI scans are as follows:

3T MRI 1.5T MRI
Pros
• Better image clarity
• Faster scan time
Pros
• More affordable
• More accessible
• Safer for implants
Cons
• Twice as expensive as 1.5T MRI
• Higher SAR risk
Cons
• Limited image quality for detailed examinations
• Slower scans

3T MRI near me and its cost

When you need a 3T MRI scan done, it’s more practical to use an imaging facility near you. That is because a nearby facility is more accessible, reducing the likelihood of delays or missed appointments.

However, with 3T MRI being a newer technology, not many imaging centres have the 3T MRI machine. 

Moreover, search engines do not provide comprehensive listings of MRI facilities or detailed information about them (like the type of machines they have, the expertise of their staff, or other specialised services offered). Thus, googling “3T MRI near me” is not optimal for finding the best 3T MRI centres near you.

A dedicated MRI facility marketplace like GetScanned is a better option for finding “3T MRI near me.”

Not only does GetScanned provide a comprehensive listing of MRI facilities near you and detailed information about each one, but also allows you to schedule an appointment directly through the platform, ensuring you can quickly secure a spot for your MRI scan.

Thus, GetScanned makes it easier to book a 3T MRI scan near you. You simply enter your postcode and the type of scan you want, and GetScanned will provide you with the best centres close to you. You can then browse through the facilities and book one that suits your needs.

In the UK, the cost of a 3T MRI can range from just over £350 to well over £1,295. The cost varies significantly depending on factors such as the body part to be examined, whether the scan requires contrast, whether you do the scan in off-peak vs peak time, and the imaging centre used.

1.5T MRI near me and its cost

A 1.5T MRI scan is more accessible than a 3T MRI scan, as more imaging facilities have 1.5T MRI machines. 

However, googling “1.5T MRI near me” is not optimal for finding the best MRI facilities near you as it won’t provide a comprehensive listing or detailed information about listed facilities.

GetScanned is an excellent MRI facility marketplace resource for finding 1.5T MRI scan centres near you. 

Just enter your postcode and the test you want, and GetScanned will furnish you with a comprehensive list of the top nearby 1.5 T MRI centres. It’ll also include information that’ll help you make an informed decision about the quality of care, equipment, and overall patient experience of each facility.

The cost of a 1.5T MRI scan in the UK starts at about £250 - £300 and can be up to £1,000. The 1.5T MRI cost varies depending on the facility, the body part scanned, and whether a contrast dye is required.

Conclusion: The right MRI scan depends on your needs

3T scans have double the signal strength of 1.5T MRI scans, making them offer reduced scan times (for a more comfortable patient experience) while maintaining great image quality (for more accurate diagnoses).

But a 1.5T MRI will give you results at half the price and is more accessible. 

A 3T MRI or a 1.5T MRI can serve you depending on your particular needs and risk factors.

However, whether you go for a 3T or 1.5T scan, the accuracy of test results and subsequent diagnoses also depends on the hospital or imaging centre where you do your test. This is where GetScanned comes in!

GetScanned is a marketplace for imaging centres where people can find the best facilities near them for diagnostic imaging tests. We’ll not only give you a list of the best facilities; we’ll work with the imaging facility you choose to ensure you have a seamless experience.

Ready to be on your way to good health? Book your MRI scan today!

FAQs

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about the difference between 3T vs 1.5T MRI scans:

1.What is a 3T MRI used for?

A 3T MRI scan is used for higher-quality, more detailed imaging of internal body structures. It’s commonly used for:

  • Neuroimaging: To provide detailed imaging of the brain and spinal cord, particularly to detect small lesions, abnormalities, or structural changes in neurological tissues. 
  • Musculoskeletal imaging: To provide detailed imaging of joints, ligaments, tendons, and cartilage. This helps to diagnose orthopaedic conditions like sports injuries, joint disorders, and cartilage defects
  • Cardiac imaging: To provide detailed imaging of the heart’s chambers, valves, and blood vessels. This helps to diagnose and evaluate cardiac conditions such as heart defects and vascular diseases.
  • Abdominal and pelvic imaging: To provide detailed imaging of the liver, kidneys, pancreas, and reproductive organs. This helps diagnose liver tumours, renal abnormalities, pancreatic disorders, etc.
  • Breast imaging: To provide detailed imaging of the breast to evaluate breast lesions, especially when mammography or ultrasound is inconclusive. 
  • Vascular imaging: To provide detailed imaging of blood vessels. This helps in evaluating conditions like aneurysms.
2.How strong is a 3T magnet?

A 3T MRI machine has a magnetic field strength of 3 Tesla, meaning it is twice as powerful as a 1.5T MRI machine. 

To provide context, a strong refrigerator has a magnetic field strength of 0.001 Tesla, and the Earth’s magnetic field is 25 to 65 micro Tesla (0.000025 to 0.000065 Tesla), depending on your location. 

So, a 3T MRI magnet is tens of thousands of times stronger than the Earth’s magnetic field.

3.How strong is a 1.5T magnet?

The 1.5T MRI magnet has a magnetic field strength of 1.5 Tesla. With the Earth’s magnetic field ranging from 25 to 65 micro Tesla, 1.5T MRI magnet: 30,000 times Earth's field.

4.Which MRI machine is best?

Your doctor will recommend the best MRI scan for you, depending on factors like the medical condition being investigated and your risk factors.

Know that a 1.5T MRI is sufficient for most MRI imaging needs. But with a 3T MRI providing more detailed imaging, it’s better for looking at small details or visualising structures deep in the human body. 

Also, with a 3T providing faster imaging, it’s better for patients who want to minimise the discomfort of the procedure.

However, with the 3T MRI being twice as powerful as the 1.5T MRI, a 1.5T may be better for patients with metallic implants. 

5.Is 3T MRI more expensive?

Compared to 1.5T MRI scanners, 3T MRI scanners cost more to acquire and service. As a result, 3T MRI scans are generally more expensive than the lower field strength 1.5T MRIs.

6.How long does a 3T MRI take?

How long a 3T MRI takes depends on several factors, including the body part being examined and the specific protocol used by the healthcare provider. However, it should take about 30-45 minutes.

By comparison, 1.5T MRIs can take 45 minutes to 1 hour, so 3T MRIs offer faster scan times. While the difference is a few minutes, it is very significant, considering that one has to remain still throughout the procedure. 

7.When will I get the results of the 3T scan?

It takes about 24 -48 hours for the result of a 3T RI scan to come out. 

8. Is a 3T MRI claustrophobic?

The experience of claustrophobia in an MRI machine is not dependent on the magnet strength (1.5T or 3T). Rather, it is the design of the MRI machine (particularly, the bore size) that can cause the feeling of claustrophobia. 

For example, the smaller the bore size, the more the feeling of confinement, making the experience claustrophobic.

Thus, smaller bore MRI machines (whether 1.5T or 3T) will contribute to claustrophobia. 3T MRI machine scanners (or 1.5T scanners) with an open-bore design or a wide bore will be less claustrophobic.

9.Which MRI is best for claustrophobia?

A 3T MRI may be better for people prone to claustrophobia because it offers shorter scan times. A shorter scan time means less time in MRI, making the experience more tolerable.