What Is Diffusion Tensor Imaging?

If you have ever had an MRI, the technology that allowed it to happen was diffusion tensor imaging. DTI, as it is often called, is a type of MRI that is relatively new yet quite innovative. Focusing on the rate at which water diffuses among cells, DTI can help doctors gather information about the internal structure of the body. Since the diffusion rate will always vary around different internal areas of the body, doctors can use this technology when attempting to make a diagnosis concerning various illnesses and conditions.

Mapping the Human Body

Although DTI is used primarily by doctors to examine the human brain, it can play a large role in mapping the human body from head to toe. Considered one of the most complex scientific methods currently used in modern medicine, DTI works by essentially using electromagnetic radiation on molecules within the body and then recording how the energy is released by those molecules. Once this is done, the information gathered is compared to existing information regarding diffusion rates between different types of human tissue. As a result, maps of muscles, nerves, and other related parts of the body can be created.

Clear Visualizations

As technology related to DTI and MRI has accelerated in recent years, one result has been clear visualizations of the internal structure of the human body. From researchers who are mapping the human brain to doctors who are trying to discover the causes of strokes or Lou Gehrig’s Disease, DTI is being used to provide 3-D maps that can help lead to major new medical discoveries in the years ahead.

Better than Conventional MRI

Though very closely related to MRI, DTI is considered to be much more sophisticated and able to do far more regarding patient research and diagnosing of various conditions, particularly those involving neurological functioning. Since DTI is viewed by researchers as providing a more in-depth map of network connections and wiring within the human brain, doctors are beginning to use DTI to help in diagnosing and treating numerous psychiatric problems and degenerative diseases of the brain and body, such as ALS and Alzheimer’s disease.

Changes in White Matter

When a person suffers a stroke or begins to have other issues associated with degenerative diseases of the brain, many changes take place in the white matter of their brain. However, conventional MRI is often unable to sufficiently pick up on the amount of damage that has taken place. But by relying on DTI, doctors can now easily detect the level of damage to white matter within a patient’s brain, allowing them to make a more accurate diagnosis and prescribe better and more effective courses of treatment much faster than before.

Undergoing a DTI

When a doctor orders a diffusion tensor imaging study to be done on a patient, it takes place at a facility that has an MRI machine and DTI software that can be integrated with the MRI to create the internal structure map. When having a DTI, the patient will need to wear a hospital gown and make sure all jewelry and other metal are removed from their body. Once positioned on the MRI machine, the patient will need to stay completely still while the machine records various images. Since this process can be noisy at times and the MRI machine sometimes makes patients prone to feeling claustrophobic, some use earplugs or headphones to help them relax until the procedure is completed.

While already considered a very advanced medical technology, diffusion tensor imaging is continually being refined in attempts by researchers to make it even more accurate in mapping the inside of the human body and the brain. With its wide use in helping doctors map the brain’s connections and structures, there is hope for the future that it will be a crucial component in helping doctors learn more about diseases that currently have no cure, such as ALS and Alzheimer’s.

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