What to Expect During an MRI Scan

An MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) is an imaging machine that uses a large magnet, a computer, and radio waves to look inside the body and to evaluate various parts of your body. Having an MRI scan is painless and requires minimal preparation. The test can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours.

If you become uncomfortable lying still for a long time or if you are uncomfortable with close spaces, talk to your doctor beforehand. Arrangements can be made for you to receive a sedative before the scan. If you have a sedative, you will need to inform the receptionist and arrive one half hour before the scan to take the medication. If you have a sedative, you must have someone to drive you home.

Preparing for Your MRI

  • IMPORTANT: If you have a cardiac (heart) pacemaker or brain aneurysm clips you cannot have an MRI. Please discuss your options with your doctor.
  • Please be sure to let your doctor and nurse know if you have any allergies.
  • Please leave all personal belongings, especially jewelry, money, credit cards etc, at home on the day of the test.
  •  Because the MRI uses a large magnet, no metallic objects or mechanical devices can be in the MRI room.
  • Please let your doctor know if you have any of the following:
    • artificial heart valve or vascular stent
    • metal plate, pin or other metallic implant
    • recently placed artificial joint (hip, knee, etc.)
    • insulin pump or other infusion pump
    • previous gun shot wound
    • inner ear implant
  • Please let your doctor know if you are pregnant or on dialysis.
  • Diet Generally, there are no restrictions to your diet. Please check with your doctor if you have to follow any special instructions.
  • Medications Generally, you may take your usual medications. Please check with your doctor if you have to follow any special instructions for the day of the test.
  • Jewelry All metal jewelry and watches must be removed. • Dental devices: If you wear dentures, or partial dental plates, they must be removed. • Hair products: Many hair products or attachable hair weaves contain magnetic particles and they must be removed. You should also remove any hair clips, ties, or pins that are made of metal or have metal parts on them.
  • Make-up Because some make-up, particularly mascara, is made with a metallic base, it is best not to wear any on the day of your appointment.
  • Tattoos If you have any tattoos, be sure to tell the MRI technologists before your scan.

The Day of Your MRI

  • You will change into a hospital gown and be asked to remove all personal belongings, including anything with metal (i.e. jewelry, bank cards, make up, hearing aids etc.).
  • Let the MRI technologist know if you are hard of hearing without your hearing aide.
  • You may need to be given a contrast dye before the exam to improve the quality of the images made by the machine. If so, a nurse will start an IV before or during the exam. You may feel a brief sting in your arm when the IV is inserted.
  • The technologist will position you on the scanning table and then move the table to the center of the MRI machine. The inside of the machine is like a giant tunnel that is well lit and open on each end.
  • A device called a “coil” will be placed either over or under you. The coil helps to get a clear picture.
  • After you are precisely positioned, the technologist will leave the room. The technologist will be able to see and hear you during the test. Let them know if you need help.
  • During the MRI scan, you will hear tapping, thumping and other noises. Earplugs may be provided to help block the noise.
  • Try to relax and lie as still as possible. Any movement will blur the picture.

After the Exam

  • When scanning is complete, you can return home and resume your normal activities, medications and diet.
  • The radiologist will interpret the scan and send a report to your physician.