What to Expect During an MRI Scan

There are certain conditions that require your doctor to send you for further diagnosis, this might involve going for an X-Ray, a CT (Computer Tomography) or CAT Scan or on occasion, going for an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scan.

Further diagnosis is often required when your GP can’t identify what illness you are suffering from or they can diagnose the problem but don’t have the facilities to treat it. For example, a doctor might request an MRI scan for a cancer patient in order to identify for their diagnosis or whether they would benefit from an alternative method of treatment like proton beam therapy.

When you are sent for further diagnosis, it can be quite intimidating, seeing different medical practitioners and getting poked and prodded in unfamiliar settings, however, it’s all for your own benefit and while may be uncomfortable, will serve you best in the end. If you’ve been scheduled for an MRI scan, sometimes you aren’t given comprehensive information on the process, here is a guide to advise what the machine will be doing during your scan and how you can be prepared.

What to Expect During an MRI Scan

How to Prepare for an MRI Scan?

As MRI scanners use exceedingly strong magnets in order to produce detailed images there are safety procedures to follow before you go for your scan. For example, you must inform the staff before your scan if you;

  • Have a pacemaker fitted
  • Are pregnant
  • Suffer from claustrophobia (so doctor’s can provide you with stress-relief medication before your scan)
  • Have any neurostimulators fitted
  • Have any implanted drug infusion device
  • Have any implants (medical or non-medical, including aneurysm clips, cochlear implants and prosthesis)
  • Have ever suffered bullet or shrapnel injuries
  • Have a history of kidney problems
  • Have any grafts or stents fitted
  • Ever worked in metalworks
  • Are allergic to gadolinium or iodine
  • Have skin tattoos
  • Have a history of diabetes
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Your doctor or the radiographer performing the scan will be able to provide a full list of anything you should notify them of before your MRI scan however these are the most common. Additionally, before you go to your scan it’s important that all valuables, including jewellery, phones and accessories are removed and either left at home or if you need them after your scan, left with a safe person during your procedure. Absolutely nothing except what the doctors give you can be taken into the MRI scanning room, especially anything with magnetic properties that could fly into and damage the MRI scanner.

What to Expect During Your Scan?

Prior to your appointment, you might be asked not to eat, drink or ingest anything up to 4 hours before your scan, depending on the area being scanned so double check this when arranging your appointment.

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On arrival, the radiographer will ask you to remove your clothes, valuables and anything with metal such as make up, piercings, jewellery, dentures, hearing aids and wigs. You’ll be provided a hospital gown to change into for the procedure and you can leave belongings either with your accompanying companion or in a locker which should be provided. Then you will be asked to lie on the scanner bed, depending on what part of your body needs to be scanned, you will either lie towards the scanner head first or feet first.

As previously mentioned, MRI scanners produce finely detailed images and as such can take between 15 to 90 minutes per body part depending on the size of the area needing to be scanned and how many images the doctor requires. During your scan, the radiographer will be in the next room monitoring your progress via the control panel and in-room cameras and you can talk to them via a two-way intercom.

As the scan takes place, the MRI machine will make a lot of noise and patients are often provided with earphones or headphones to wear, usually with the option to listen to music. This noise is nothing to worry about, it is simply the adjustment noises made as the scanner coils turn on and off in the machine.

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It’s important during the scan, you lay as still as possible so not to interfere with the scan and cause the images to blur and to help with this the radiographer might ask you to hold your breath during certain short scans. In some cases, you may be given a frame that sits over the part of your body being scanned to enhance the quality of the images being made.

After the Scan

Once the scan is finished, the radiographer will remove you from the MRI machine and you can return to your normal schedule, unless you’ve been given any calming medication or sedatives to combat claustrophobia or anxiety then you should be monitored until you get safely home or for at least 24 hours if you have been given a sedative.

Your scan will be studied by the radiologist and where necessary, sent for further interpretation by dedicated specialists, the results will then be sent to the doctor who requested the scan and they will contact you to discuss your scan results.

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