MRI of the Chest

In our Institute for Preventive Medicine in Witten the whole-body magnetic resonance tomography provides high resolution anatomical and functional imaging of the organs, tissues and structures of the chest.

In particular, inflammatory processes as well as various tumor stages can be visualised in an excellent way with the help of MRI diagnostics.

In the following, we give you an exemplary overview of possible anatomical abnormalities or illnesses of the chest.


As mentioned in advance, the MRI is particularly suitable for the visualisation of tumorous changes, whereby early stages of cancer can be detected very efficiently.

The mediastinal tumors should be mentioned in this context. The mediastinum comprises those organs which lie in the centre of the chest between the lungs. It extends horizontally from the sternum to the spine, vertically from the neck to the diaphragma. In this defined space, a variety of benign or malignant tumors can be detected starting from the thyroid gland, the lymphatic system or the nervous systems.

We make use of the MRI as an objective assessment tool for localisation, visualisation, quantification and identification of the tumor. Changes in lymph nodes are also visible. The spatial demands by the tumor or the infiltration into surrounding tissues are also detectable. The condition of the thoracic blood vessels can be easily examined when making use of an intravenous contrast agent. Additionally, the accumulation of the contrast agent in certain tissue areas also helps to identify the tumors.

Early stages of neural cancers (e.g. benign neurofibroma) or the vertebrae can be localized. Moreover, the detection of metastases is possible.

In case of such findings, we will recommend further interdisciplinary diagnosis. You can benefit from early diagnosis because a targeted and professionally competent treatment provides excellent healing chances.

Lymph Node Diseases

Like the rest of the body, the mediastinum is traversed by lymph pathways, whose intersection points are formed by lymph nodes. (See also MRI of the upper abdomen and MRI of the pelvis).

One of the lymph node diseases is the sarcoidosis (Boeck’s disease), which shows connective tissue nodules (granulomas). This rare benign inflammatory disease mainly affects lymph nodes and lung tissue, but not exclusively. Finally, a sarcoidosis can occur in all body areas.

Lymphomas are also among the lymph node diseases of the thorax. See in chapter “MRI of the pelvis“ for more details.

Pulmonary and Pleural Diseases

Pulmonary and pleural diseases include the pleural effusion. First of all, some notes on pleural anatomy: On the one hand, this membrane dresses the inside of the chest, and on the other it envelops the lungs. Between the two pleural layers there is the pleural space, which is normally filled with a little amount of liquid. The lungs change their volume while breathing and can unfold and move freely along the pleura and the pleural space.

Pleural effusion is a pathological accumulation of liquid in the pleural space. Depending on the quantity, it can compress the lungs and restrict their function. This abnormal fluid accumulation can have a variety of causes. This may include heart failure, pneumonia, or lung cancer (bronchial carcinoma). If abnormal liquid amounts are detected in the pleural space during MRI imaging, we recommend further steps for differential diagnosis.

The empyema is characterized by an accumulation of infected liquids in the pleural space. It is an infectious disease that can be quite life-threatening. (Typical for a late stage is the pleural scar tissue showing adhesions of the two pleural layers). However, patients with early detection of empyema and appropriate therapy have a high chance of full recovery.

Risk Factors for Reflux of Gastric Acid

The diaphragmatic hernia is one of the risk factors for reflux of gastric acid. Due to the altered opening of the diaphragma, parts of the stomach can shift. In individual cases this may cause reflux of gastric acid into the oesophagus.

Moreover, epiphrenal diverticula are risk factors for reflux of gastric acid. These are bulges of the oesophagus lining which occur in the esophagus due to a wall weakness. In such cases we are able to detect them above the diaphragma after the injection of a contrast agent.

Heart and Pericard

The MRI of the heart (cardiac MRI) is a relatively new diagnostic method that is now part of cardiovascular diagnostics. MRI imaging allows to visualise the morphology of the heart and adjacent vessels, the wall movement of the heart, signs of cardiac muscle diseases, malformations, fluid accumulation, inflammation of the heart muscle, the assessment of the affected areas after a heart attack and the blood circulation. We use contrast agents, if necessary.

As part of the whole-body MRI, we focus on pathological changes of the pericardium. The first clues to a pericardial effusion can be given. The pericardium encloses the heart and consists of two layers, which are separated by a small pericardial space. Normally it contains little amounts if liquid, only a few milliliters. In case of sickness a pericardial effusion can occur: the accumulation of fluid in this peicardial space increases and the cardiac function is restricted.

If we detect early signs of a pericardial effusion, we will pass this information on to your cardiologist, who will be able to go on with appropriate therapy.

Furthermore, the characteristics of a pericarditis (inflammation) can be detected. It may be caused by flu pathogens. Since chronic inflammation of the pericardium often involves just a minor range of symptoms, the diagnosis has to be performed carefully.

Moreover, MRI imaging visualises pericardial cysts. These are fluid-filled, benign malformations of the pericardium, which are often discovered as a random finding.

Thoracic Aortas

There are pathological blood vessel changes that pose a danger to your health and their early detection is important for successful treatment. (See: “MRI of vessels“, arteriosclerosis and aneurysms).

Using a contrast agent, the first signs of an aortic dissection can also be detected. In this case the vascular wall is dissected – blood can penetrate into the deeper wall layers which can be shown in the MRI images. At an early stage this can be cured by special medication, whereas surgical intervention is necessary in acute and advanced cases.

Our team of the Institute for Preventive Medicine in Witten will be happy to answer any questions you may have about magnetic resonance imaging of the chest.

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