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What You Need to Know About an MRI Scan

If you have been prescribed an MRI, you may be wondering what an MRI is and how it works.

It is important to understand that there are certain medical conditions that may prevent you from having one. By learning more about MRI scans, you can better prepare yourself for one.

The magnetic waves can affect some devices

Before entering the room where your MRI takes place, your technician will ask you to remove any metal on your body. They will do so because the magnetic waves can interact with these devices which can be dangerous and can cause distortion of the images your physician is requesting.

Similarly, if you have an implantable cardiac device, the MRI may affect it. Devices such as pacemakers and loop recorders won't always prevent you from having an MRI. However, you should contact your cardiologist prior to getting an MRI and make sure your MRI technician is aware of the device.

Metallic implants following trauma and orthopedic operations

It's not always the case that a metallic implant will prevent you from having an MRI. However, it's worth knowing that they can distort the image.

If your joint replacement surgery was relatively recent, the individual overseeing your care might need to determine whether it has fused with the joint sufficiently before proceeding with the MRI scan.

Whether or not this is an issue may also include other factors, such as your condition and the joint affected.

Other considerations to discuss with your technician before an MRI:

  • Cochlear implants
  • Catheters with metallic components
  • Metallic fragments, such as bullets, that don't have a stable position in your body

Your radiologist may inject a dye before the scan

In some instances, your MRI technician may need to give you an injection of a contrast dye.

Contrast dye isn't used in all MRIs, though. Only around one in three require it. In many cases your doctor will determine the need for a contrast dye before your MRI and inform you of this step when prescribing the MRI. In some cases, you may learn of this step when you arrive for your MRI.

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An MRI scan can last for up to 60 minutes and they do make noise

To conduct a detailed analysis of what's happening inside your body, an MRI can last between 20 and 60 minutes. During this time, you might hear clicking, humming, and even banging sounds. This is very normal as the powerful magnet moves around a coil to provide an accurate picture of your body.

It is common for MRI participants to feel some anxiety about the procedure due to the combination of the MRI equipment, and the noise the MRI machine makes.

If you believe you may experience claustrophobia during your MRI, it's important to highlight this with your medical team.

As a result, they may choose to give you a sedative to help you stay calm and still during the scan. Doing so is important because movement during the scan can distort the image and prevent your medical team from performing a thorough assessment.

In the case of children, an anesthetic may be needed. Pediatric patients may require an anesthetic as it's more challenging to encourage children of younger ages to remain still during the scan. 

In some cases, the technologist may provide you with earplugs or with headphones and soothing music. Opting to use them is advisable, especially if you suspect that the noise the scan produces will make you uncomfortable in any way.

Using MRIs in women who are pregnant or breastfeeding

MRIs may be prescribed for various reasons for pregnant or breastfeeding women because MRIs do not use radiation.

However, if you are breastfeeding, and your doctor needs to use a contrast dye you might want to seek advice on pumping and storing milk. 

MRI scans are an important tool that can provide important and detailed medical images of your body. If you have any additional questions or concerns about getting an MRI, you should consult your doctor or medical professional team.