Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

Magnetic Resonance Imaging, or MRI, is one of the safest and most comfortable ways of looking inside the body. MRI uses a powerful magnet and radio waves, instead of x-rays, to create detailed images of your body’s soft tissue and organs.

The images look like cross-sections of the body, and a technologist views a series of these images as they display on a computer screen. Once they are compiled, the images form a multidimensional view of your body, enhancing your doctor’s ability to diagnose and treat a variety of conditions, including those of the brain and spine. 

Unlike x-rays, an MRI doesn’t produce radiation, so there are no side effects associated with the exam.

Why Is an MRI Done?

Your doctor can use the results of an MRI to detect and diagnose a wide range of medical conditions. An MRI is extremely precise, providing your doctor with a clear picture of your internal organs and soft tissue structures, like muscles or blood vessels. Because of its accuracy, an MRI often leads to early detection and treatment of disease.

MRI is most effective in diagnosing conditions in the following areas:

  • Abdominal organs and glands
  • Brain
  • Breasts
  • Heart and circulatory system
  • Joints, muscles, and ligaments
  • Spinal cord and vertebrae

Before the Exam

An MRI is safe and painless. Usually no special preparations are needed prior to the examination.

Some metal objects are strongly attracted to the magnet, so we will ask that you remove the following items before entering the exam room:

  • Credit cards
  • Glasses
  • Hair pins
  • Hearing aids
  • Jewelry
  • Removable dental work
  • Watch

In addition, people with some types of implants or other metal in their body may not be able to have MRI exams:

  • Certain implants
  • Medicine pumps
  • Metal foreign bodies
  • Pacemakers
  • Tattoos with iron or black pigment
  • Vascular stents or clips

Most new surgical implants are made of metals that are not magnetic. They are usually safe and you can be imaged with these. Dental fillings and bridgework are okay, too.

Other objects that may have been placed inside your body, or certain medical conditions, may be incompatible with your MRI exam. If you have questions about an implant or health condition that could affect your exam, or if you think you might be pregnant, please talk to an MRI technologist or radiologist.

During the Exam

When you first arrive at the Imaging Services Clinic, you’ll check in and complete some paperwork. We’ll provide you a locker for your personal items if you weren’t able to leave them at home. You may be asked to change into a gown.

In the scan room, you’ll see the large magnet of the MRI. The magnet is large enough for you to fit inside. You will be placed on a table that slides into the tube in the center; it is about the length of your body and open at both ends. Then, radio waves similar to those on an FM radio will interact with the magnetic field and create images of your body. 

A technologist will be inside a control room and you can speak to the technologist at any time using a microphone built into the MRI tube.

The average scan takes between 30 and 60 minutes, depending on the location of the scan and the information needed. You will be asked to lie still for periods of up to 10 minutes at a time while the images are captured.

Once it begins scanning, the MRI machine makes noisy tapping and banging sounds as it acquires the images. These sounds are normal, but we will provide you with earplugs for your comfort, or you may ask to listen to music through headphones.

Very few people have any side effects from the contrast medium. If they do occur, they are usually mild and will pass quickly.

After the Exam

A radiologist will review your images and send a report to your doctor, who will notify you of any findings. You may also request to receive your images on CD.