What is a T1 MRI?

Mary McMahon

A T1 magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) study is a type of basic MRI study that can be conducted to collect information about what is happening inside a patient's body. This test can be run rapidly and returns high contrast results. Patients may be asked to undergo repeat tests using different MRI techniques in some cases, and other medical imaging studies may also be ordered if necessary, along with diagnostic tools like bloodwork.

The radiologist or technician can view the T1 MRI images in real time from the observation room.
The radiologist or technician can view the T1 MRI images in real time from the observation room.

T1 is a value used to refer to the way different tissues in the body respond to the pulses from the MRI machine. These machines work by exciting protons and reading the resulting change in magnetic field. The T1 value refers to the average amount of time protons in a given tissue type spend in a high energy state before returning back to their basic state. Different tissues, like fat and muscle, respond differently to the MRI pulses, creating contrast in the resulting images.

An MRI scan of the brain.
An MRI scan of the brain.

The T1 MRI is especially useful imaging the brain, as gray and white matter behave very differently and a crisp, clear image of the brain will be returned. In addition, hyperintense lesions in the brain will show up clearly on the MRI as very dark spots, while things like hemorrhages will appear pale to white, depending on their size and intensity. Using the T1 MRI allows a doctor to obtain a high resolution image of the inside of the brain to collect information used in developing a treatment plan for the patient.

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Various tissues in the body are said to have different T1 “weights,” referring to their activity in the MRI machine. Adjusting the pulses used by the machine can return various results by exciting the protons in different ways. This can be used to create three dimensional MRI imaging and color MRI, in addition to detailed black and white T1 MRI images.

This is the most common form of MRI used in medical diagnosis, and it can be done with or without a contrast agent. Sometimes a scan is performed without contrast first and then repeated with contrast to highlight any differences and structural abnormalities. During a T1 MRI, the patient will need to lie very still on a table in the MRI machine. The machine can be noisy and may be uncomfortable, and patients are usually offered ear protection and may be given sedatives to help them stay calm in the machine. Moving during the T1 MRI disrupts the readings, and may force a repeat of the test to collect accurate data.

An MRI machine.
An MRI machine.

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Discussion Comments


Is there a difference or a better test result when dealing with the lower back area, when getting an MRI? Such as sitting versus lying down? Or contrast versus no contrast?

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