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Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

1. What is MRI?

Magnetic Resonance Imaging, more commonly called MRI, is an imaging technique that uses a magnetic field and radio waves to create detailed images of your internal organs and tissues that can be viewed three dimensionally from many different angles.

2. Why is it done?

MRI provides a noninvasive way for your doctor to look inside your body and examine your internal organs, tissues and skeletal system. MRI is done to help diagnose a variety of problems including stroke, tumors and spinal cord injuries. MRI delivers the most sensitive imaging for your brain and spinal cord and provides incredibly detailed images.

3. What are the risks?

There are no known harmful effects from exposure to the magnetic field or radio waves used in creating MRI images. If you have any metal present in your body such as artificial heart valves, metal clips or shrapnel, be sure to inform your technologist so it can be determined if it is safe for you to have an MRI. Never enter the room where the MRI is located until you have been cleared by your technologist.

If you are pregnant or think you could be pregnant be sure to tell your doctor or the technologist performing the exam because the effects of the magnetic field on a fetus are not well understood. 

It's also important to discuss any kidney or liver problems with both your physician and your technologist, because problems with these organs may limit the use of injected contrasts used in your exam.

4. How should I prepare?

There is little preparation involved before an MRI exam. You can eat normally and continue to take your usual medications, unless you are otherwise instructed. You will be asked to change into a hospital gown and to remove any jewelry, hairpins, eyeglasses, watches, wigs, dentures, hearing aids and underwire bras as these can be sucked into the magnetic field, creating a safety hazard.

If you have a tendency to be claustrophobic, you may want to talk to your doctor about arranging for a sedative before the procedure.

5. What should I expect?

You will be asked to lie face up on a table that slides into a long tunnel that is open on both ends. Your technologist will monitor you from another room but you will still be able to communicate with your technologist through an intercom system.

The machine will create a strong magnetic field around you and direct radio waves at your body, but you will not feel anything. The MRI machine, however, can be quite noisy so we will provide you with earplugs to protect your hearing and drown out the noise.

Most MRI exams last about 30 minutes to an hour and you will be required to hold very still because any movement might blur your images.  In some cases you may have contrast injected into your veins to help enhance certain tissues or blood vessels in the images. Rarely, the contrast can cause hives and itching. Be sure to inform your technologist if you experience any adverse symptoms during or following your exam.

After your exam is completed you should be able to resume your normal activities unless you have been sedated. Nursing mothers should not breast feed for 36 to 48 hours after an MRI if a contrast is used.

6. Who interprets the results and how do I get them?

One of our radiologists will analyze the images from your scan and then report any findings to your doctor. Your doctor will discuss the results with you and recommend any further actions.