What is an MRI Exam?

MRI is a non-invasive procedure which uses a magnetic field and radio waves to create cross-sectional images of your head and body.  It provides contrast detail of soft tissue and anatomic structures like gray and white matter in the brain, or small metastatic lesions (cancers) in the liver.  Unlike conventional x-rays, which provide images of dense structures like bones with good resolution, MRI is used to provide images of soft tissues in joints.

How do I prepare?

Eat normally, and continue to take your usual medications, unless otherwise instructed by your physician.  Upon arrival at the MRI facility, you will be asked to complete a screening form which will be reviewed with you by a technologist or nurse.    You will be required to remove all jewelry and any other magnetic objects from your body before the exam. 

You will not be able to have an MRI scan if you have pacemaker.  If you have any metal or electronic devices implanted in your body (such as metallic joint prostheses, artificial heart valves, implanted electronic devices, cochlear implants or magnets in your dentures), tell the technologist prior to the scan, as the presence of metal in your body may be a safety hazard or may affect your image.

What is involved?

The exam is painless and non-invasive.  You may be given a gown and robe to wear or told to wear clothing without metal fasteners.    You will than be placed on a movable table that slides into a large donut-shaped machine similar to a tunnel.   The machine produces loud humming and repetitive thumping sounds during the exam.  Headphones will be provided to you to help block the noise and to allow the technologist in the control room to communicate with you. 

In order to get a high-quality image, it is important that you lie as still as possible.  Some people may encounter feelings of claustrophobia when in the machine – if you think that you might, please ask your family doctor to prescribe a sedative which you take prior to the exam.  

Depending upon which part of your body needs to be scanned, you may have a small device placed around the portion being examined in order to receive the MR signal.    If a contrast agent is to be administered in order to enhance the scan, an intravenous line will be started, usually in a small vein of your hand or forearm. 

How long will it take?

Several sets of images are usually required, each taking from 2 – 15 minutes to complete.  Depending on the organs studied, a complete scan may take as little as 20 minutes to more than an hour. 

Once the scan is completed, you can resume all normal activities.  The only exception is that you will need to have a ride home if you have taken a sedative prior to the scan.

How do I get my results?

Your results will be read by a radiologist, and a report will be sent to your referring physician, who will go over the results with you.


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