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GE's new 'silent scan' tech takes the noise out of MRIs

Conventional MRI scanners can exceed 110 decibels, which equals rock show noise levels and is on the edge of the human pain threshold.

MRI scanners can be as loud as a jackhammer -- and annoying as one, too. GE Healthcare

Want to know what a typical MRI scanner sounds like? Go to this YouTube video and turn up the volume pretty much as loud as you can and you'll get an idea. At 110 decibels, which is roughly the noise level of a rock show (I know, depends on which one) and right at the average human pain threshold, MRI scanners are pretty much daring you to keep your cool.

So GE Healthcare has been developing a new technology called Silent Scan that dramatically reduces the noise level. (Scroll down to get an idea of the difference.) The company reports this week that the tech is now commercially available and is also being more widely used in clinical settings worldwide.

In the past, to deal with the noise complaints by patients undergoing MRI exams, manufacturers have turned to acoustic dampening material or performance degradation in an attempt to dampen the volume. But GE decided to tackle the problem at its source, eliminating the noise instead of merely dampening it.

To do this, GE combines three technologies: "Silenz," a novel data-acquisition method where gradients are used continuously to avoid mechanical vibration; high-fidelity power electronics, to help maintain the stable gradients and radio frequency required to avoid generating image artifacts; and ultra-fast RF switching, so that the RF coil system can switch from transmit to receive mode within microseconds to maximize signal-to-noise ratios within the images.

Silent Scan is currently available on GE's 1.5T and 3.0T systems, which are used for routine head exams. If you are so fortunate as to be in one, may the silence be with you.