Things to Know Before Having a Magnetic Resonance Imaging Scan Done

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Being sent for testing can be worrying, but understanding what’s involved sometimes makes this process a little bit easier. In the case of an MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging, the first thing to know is that the procedure itself is painless.

Potential Reasons for an MRI

This type of scan helps doctors see what’s going on with the tissues in the body, so if the doctor thinks that there may be something wrong with the abdominal organs, heart, joints, brain, or spinal cord, she might order an MRI. The same is true when trying to determine whether a person has tumors or whether a woman might be having fertility problems due to abnormalities with her uterus. Because it doesn’t use radiation, an MRI doesn’t have as many risks as X-rays or CT scans.

What’s Involved

The MRI is like a giant tube that has a table in the middle for the patient to lie on. Depending on the reason for the scan, the patient may be injected with a liquid that will make certain types of tissue more easily visible in the scan. It’s important to stay very still during the scan, which typically takes between 20 and 60 minutes, and follow any directions given by the technician through the intercom. The patient shouldn’t be alarmed by any loud noises, as they’re totally normal and can be somewhat blocked out with headphones or earplugs if desired.

Who Shouldn’t Have This Scan

Because an MRI uses a strong magnet, anybody that has any metal in their body shouldn’t have this test, including people with shrapnel in their body, a metal artificial joint, an insulin pump, an ear implant, an aneurysm clip, or a cardiac pacemaker. Fillings and braces usually don’t preclude having an MRI, but wire sutures or surgical staples or an IUD might. Check with your doctor if you’re pregnant, particularly if you’re in the first trimester.

Other Considerations

Some people may want to request that their scans take place in an open MRI machine. This includes people who are claustrophobic, men with particularly wide shoulders, and obese individuals. Children who aren’t able to keep still long enough for the scans to be completed may need to be sedated, and this is also an option for those who are particularly claustrophobic.


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