Magnetic Resonance Imaging, or MRI, is a diagnostic imaging modality that produces a series of cross-sectional images of your body. Recent advances in MRI technology have made this type of imaging a valuable tool in the detection of many conditions.
Before Your MRI
A Brigham and Women's MRI staff member will call you prior to your MRI exam to confirm your appointment, review the safety and medical screening questions, and give you any instructions you may need.
If your MRI requires the use of an IV contrast agent, you will be asked questions to determine if you have a history of kidney disease, diabetes, lupus, multiple myeloma, or other conditions. Some patients may need a blood test to evaluate kidney function prior to administering the contrast agent.
MRI Safety Screening Form
If you are scheduled for an MRI exam, you must complete the safety screening form prior to each MRI appointment.
It is important for you to keep taking your medications unless otherwise instructed. For some MRI-guided procedures, you may be asked to stop taking your medicine prior to your procedure.
Food and Drink
If you are having your abdomen scanned it may be necessary for you to fast 4-6 hours before the MRI exam. For example, enterography patients and patients who are having their pancreas scanned must fast for 4-6 hours before their exams. This will ensure that undigested food will not obscure the images.
For some exams, you may be asked to drink some oral contrast when you arrive for your MRI exam. Most other MRI exams do not require you to fast or otherwise restrict your diet.
When to Arrive
You should arrive 30 minutes before your scheduled appointment to allow time to complete some required paperwork and change into a hospital gown. At that time, a technologist will review the safety screening questions with you.
What to Wear
You will need to change into a hospital gown. Our changing areas are private and there is a secure locker for your clothes and belongings. It is best if you leave valuable items at home. You will need to lock up all of your belongings, including your cell phone and credit cards. If you are wearing anything metallic, such as jewelry, dentures, eyeglasses, or hearing aids that might interfere with the MRI, we will ask you to remove them. Patients who are having a brain / head MRI should not wear make-up as some brands contain metal.
Many of our patients receive an oral or intravenous (IV) contrast agent during their MRI to better visualize the area being scanned. The contrast agents in use today carry a low risk of allergic reaction and cause little discomfort for most people. If the radiologist determines that IV contrast is necessary, the technologist will place an IV in your arm prior to your scan. If an oral contrast is needed, you will be asked to arrive 1 hour prior to you scheduled exam to take the contrast.
During Your MRI
A technologist will bring you into the MRI scanner room where you will lie down on the patient table. The area to be scanned will be centered in the middle of the large cylindrical magnet. The scanner makes a loud knocking noise when it takes the pictures. To lessen the noise, the MRI technologist will give you earplugs. In some instances, you will be offered headphones to listen to music. You will also be given a squeeze ball that sends a signal to the technologist in the observation room that you are having a problem. You may use the squeeze ball at anytime to get our attention.
The technologist will leave the room but will monitor you through the observation window just outside the scanner room. There is also voice communication at all times through an intercom system that the technologist will use to instruct you on what is happening during the scan. It is important for you to lie very still. For some exams, you will be asked to hold your breath as the pictures are taken.
Length of MRI Exam
MRI scans vary in length but most take 40-60 minutes to complete after you have been positioned inside the scanner. Multiple MRI studies will take longer.
Often, these exams involve a preliminary scan, then injection of contrast through the IV in your arm (should your scan require it), followed by more scanning. After all of the images are taken, you may be asked to wait a few moments while the radiologist reviews the images to be sure we have all of the information we need. You may then get dressed and leave.