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Understanding Why MRI Is a Widely Used Term Instead of NMR

May 6, 2021 | Articles, MRI

There’s no shortage of terminology and acronyms in the medical field. Machinery and technology have evolved so much over the years that even their namesakes have gone through changes as terms become almost interchangeable. One prominent example of this is medical scanning technologies NMR and MRI. 

People who aren’t familiar with or are new to the medical industry may not be wholly aware of the correlation between an NMR and MRI. Some may even question if the terms refer to two different machines. 

Here’s what you should know about them: 


Meanings Behind NMR and MRI

It can help to understand what NMR and MRI both stand for. An NMR means Nuclear Magnetic Resonance, while MRI refers to Magnetic Resonance Imaging. When dealing with hospital equipment, you might hear both terms and feel confused about what device is needed.

In all actuality, NMR and MRIs are just the same machines. As their names imply, both processes require the use of magnetic resonance in order to function. Some may regard that NMR is a general scientific tool utilized in chemistry, but they’re no different in the medical field.

Each term can be used in lieu of another to define the machines and techniques used to capture and scan an image using a magnetic field and radio signals. If you’re wondering why you don’t hear NMR as much anymore, it just so happens that the term MRI was used in place of NMR for several reasons. 


MRI’s Popularization Over NMR

MRI had been more widely used and used as a replacement for NMR because of the fear that people had over the term ‘nuclear.’ At the time of NMR’s discovery, many had become anxious about nuclear war and the severity of a nuclear bomb. 

It doesn’t help that nuclear power plants also had a questionable reputation. The several radiation accidents that occurred and were reported seemed to be shrouded in mystery, leaving society to just imagine the very worst to have happened.

Understandably, nuclear had quite a negative connotation. When people heard the term “nuclear magnetic resonance”, NMR just didn’t catch on very well and that certain imaging technology needed a new name. It’s a must to clarify that the NMR process never had anything to do with atomic radiation, though. Similarly, the MRI doesn’t involve any nuclear danger either. 


How the Terms Are Perceived in Real-Time

Many people now have a clearer understanding and less fear around the term ‘nuclear’, knowing it’s a term for different protons and neutrons. Especially in the scientific field, nuclear energy and nuclear physics are all components used in science for the greater good. 

However, perhaps out of habit and past semantics, medical professionals prefer to use the term MRI rather than NMR. Patients, manufacturers, and parts dealers are much more aware of MRI scanners and what it pertains to, so using that may cause less confusion on their part. 



To sum it up, MRI and NMR terms refer to the same imaging technology and are interchangeable. However, the medical field has shifted to use the term MRI instead of NMR so as not to discourage folks who had a fear of anything containing the word ‘nuclear.’ 

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