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Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

What is MRI?

MRI is a diagnostic procedure that uses a combination of a large magnet, radio frequencies, and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and structures within the body.

Before the procedure

If your procedure involves the use of contrast dye, you will be asked to sign a consent form that gives permission to do the procedure. Read the form carefully and ask questions if something is not clear.

Generally, there is no special restriction on diet or activity prior to an MRI procedure.

Before the examination, it is extremely important that you inform the technologist if any of the following apply to you:

  • You are claustrophobic and think that you will be unable to lie still while inside the scanning machine, in which case you may be given a sedative
  • You have a pacemaker or have had heart valves replaced
  • You have any type of implanted pump, such as an insulin pump
  • You have metal plates, pins, metal implants, surgical staples, or aneurysm clips
  • You have any metallic fragments anywhere in the body
  • You have permanent eyeliner or tattoos
  • You are pregnant or suspect you may be pregnant
  • You ever had a bullet wound
  • You have ever worked with metal (e.g., a metal grinder or welder)
  • You have any body piercing
  • You have an intrauterine device (IUD)
  • You are wearing a medication patch

As there is a possibility that you may receive a sedative before the procedure, you should plan to have someone drive you home afterward.

Based upon your medical condition, your physician may require other specific preparation.

During the procedure

MRI may be performed on an outpatient basis or as part of your stay in a hospital. Procedures may vary depending on your condition and your physician's practices.

Generally, MRI of the bones, joints, or soft tissue follows this process:

  1. You will be asked to remove any clothing, jewelry, eyeglasses, hearing aids, hairpins, removable dental work, or other objects that may interfere with the procedure.
  2. If you are asked to remove clothing, you will be given a gown to wear.
  3. If you are to have a procedure done with contrast, an intravenous (IV) line will be started in the hand or arm for injection of the contrast dye.
  4. You will lie on a scan table that slides into a large circular opening of the scanning machine. Pillows and straps may be used to prevent movement during the procedure.
  5. The technologist will be in another room where the scanner controls are located. However, you will be in constant sight of the technologist through a window. Speakers inside the scanner will enable the technologist to communicate with and hear you. You will have a call button so that you can let the technologist know if you have any problems during the procedure. The technologist will be watching you at all times and will be in constant communication.
  6. A surface coil may be placed over the area to be examined if it is a relatively small area, such as a joint.
  7. You will be given earplugs or a headset to wear to help block out the noise from the scanner. Some headsets may provide music for you to listen to.
  8. During the scanning process, a clicking noise will sound as the magnetic field is created and pulses of radio waves are sent from the scanner.
  9. It will be important for you to remain very still during the examination, as any movement could cause distortion and affect the quality of the scan.
  10. At intervals, you may be instructed to hold your breath, or to not breathe, for a few seconds, depending on the body part being examined. You will then be told when you can breathe. You should not have to hold your breath for longer than a few seconds.
  11. If contrast dye is used for your procedure, you may feel some effects when the dye is injected into the IV line. These effects include a flushing sensation or a feeling of coldness, a salty or metallic taste in the mouth, a brief headache, itching, or nausea and/or vomiting. These effects usually last for a few moments.
  12. You should notify the technologist if you feel any breathing difficulties, sweating, numbness, or heart palpitations.
  13. Once the scan has been completed, the table will slide out of the scanner and you will be assisted off the table.
  14. If an IV line was inserted for contrast administration, the line will be removed.

While the MRI procedure itself causes no pain, having to lie still for the length of the procedure might cause some discomfort or pain, particularly in the case of a recent injury or invasive procedure such as surgery. The technologist will use all possible comfort measures and complete the procedure as quickly as possible to minimize any discomfort or pain.

On occasion, some patients with metal fillings in their teeth may experience some slight tingling of the teeth during the procedure.

After the procedure

You should move slowly when getting up from the scanner table to avoid any dizziness or lightheadedness from lying flat for the length of the procedure.

If any sedatives were taken for the procedure, you may be required to rest until the sedatives have worn off. You will also need to avoid driving.

If contrast dye is used during your procedure, you may be monitored for a period of time for any side effects or reactions to the contrast dye, such as itching, swelling, rash, or difficulty breathing.

If you notice any pain, redness, and/or swelling at the IV site after you return home following your procedure, you should notify your physician as this could indicate an infection or other type of reaction.

Otherwise, there is no special type of care required after a MRI scan of the bones, joints, and soft tissues. You may resume your usual diet and activities, unless your physician advises you differently.

Your physician may give you additional or alternate instructions after the procedure, depending on your particular situation.

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