It’s great to know what you’ll be going into before your scheduled appointment. Many people are anxious before their MRI because they are unsure of the proceedings or concerned about claustrophobia. Here are some tips to help you feel more familiar and at ease before your appointment!
What is an MRI?
An MRI is a diagnostic imaging machine that uses magnetic and radio waves to scan your body. As a fourth time MRIee, I can attest that we are very fortunate to have such diagnostic technology. They allow a much better look at organs, ligaments, cartilage, and fine structures — especially the brain! The images thus provided are shockingly detailed and comprehensive. When I review my scans with my doctor afterwards, I can easily see all the parts of the hand/ankle in question. A TYPICAL SCAN TAKES 30 MINS.
- Medical History: When you arrive at your MRI, the receptionist will have you fill out a form that covers any medical history relevant to the exam. You will be asked about previous surgeries or any operations that may have resulted in metal entering your system.
- Clothing: You will likely be lead to a change room before your scan and asked to change out of your clothing and into a hospital gown. This will ensure there is no metal on your person, as the MRI operates as a huge magnet, and may heat or pull all metal off your body. (PRO-TIP: Hospital gowns often tie at the back, and it can be a little tricky. Find the strings first, then put your arms in! Just take your time, there will be no rush)
- Piercings/Jewelry: Many people are concerned about removing piercings or jewelry before their exam. The clinic will most likely ask you to have all metal removed before your arrival. And this is the safest and most convenient action. However, I’ve learned that it will not be the end of the world if you can’t remove it! Note: gold wedding bands are almost always okay. I have a nose piercing that is quite tricky to remove and, as I was panicking, the nurse told me I could have the metal tested. Before I went into the machine, the doctor tested the magnetic potential of my ring with a little magnet, and gave the go-ahead, of course informing me of the minor risks involved (potential to heat up and burn the skin or conduct an electrical current). In fact, he told me that he often does conduct MRI exams on patients unable to easily remove their jewelry. I was given a panic button to keep with me in the machine, as all patients are, and he let me know just to press it if I felt my nose heating up!
*Most clinics ask that you arrive 30 mins early for your appointment, to allow time for preparation
- Arrival: Most hospitals ask that you ARRIVE 30 MINS EARLY for your appointment.
- Preparation: Complete medical history and preparation, remove all metal from body.
- Meet your doctor! Your doctor will often introduce him/herself and explain the procedure specific to the body part being scanned. Ask any questions you have so they won’t plague you once in the machine!
- Set-up: The doctor will have you lie down on the examination platform, and arrange you in the best position for your scan. If an external arm or leg is being scanned, they will often strap down the area to ensure a clear picture — it’s vital to stay still!
- Panic button/headphones: Most clinics will provide a panic button that you can clutch during the exam, should you need to contact the doctor immediately. Headphones are provided to protect your ears from the loud whirs of the MRI. Sometimes the doctor will play a radio station for you, or speak to you through them!
- Into the machine: The examination table will then slide forward into the machine. Depending on the part being examined, your whole body may enter the machine, or only partially. The typical scan takes 30 minutes.
What is the machine like?
Painless. Loud. Not sealed. Boring.
The machine is not sealed! You can see out either end of the examination table even if your whole body is inside. The procedure is completely painless — the only discomfort you may feel is from the loud whirring of the machine, but headphones are usually provided! My doctor provided me pillows for my head and under my knees, and projected a charming “calming image” of a cherry blossom tree onto the ceiling. I’ve fallen asleep in the machine at one of my appointments — the whirring becomes a lullaby. All you have to do is lie as still as possible!
From my experience, the imaging staff are extremely friendly and put in the extra effort to make you feel comfortable! Don’t be afraid to ask questions, or phone in ahead with concerns. Remember — breathe, and focus on how lucky we are to have this technology!
Any questions? — please ask me in the comments!