How to prepare for MRI

How to prepare for an MRI

How to prepare for an MRI

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a highly useful tool to help diagnose all manner of conditions, from torn ligaments to spinal cord damage to the presence of tumors.

Here’s what to expect during the MRI exam itself: You’ll lie on a table that slides into the tube-shaped MRI machine, which then uses a magnetic field and radio waves to make images of areas inside your body. A technologist monitors you from another room and may ask you to perform simple tasks during the exam, which typically lasts 15 to 60 minutes.

But there are also steps you can take ahead of the exam date, as well as the day of, to make sure everything goes smoothly and easily. Here’s what to know for planning ahead and the day of your MRI.

Plan ahead: Ensure medical devices and anything else in your body are MRI-safe.

A radiologist will typically ask you to complete a questionnaire before the exam to make sure there’s nothing in your body that their MRI machines might damage. But you’ll want to know ahead of time if you might have an issue, as your MRI will be canceled if it can’t be conducted safely.

Some devices and other materials that may not be safe for an MRI include but are not limited to:

  • Pacemakers or implantable defibrillators
  • Metal pins, screws, or plates
  • Some surgical clips and stents
  • Metal braces, retainers, and dental fillings
  • Any medical device that contains magnets, like cochlear implants
  • Embedded shrapnel, BB pellets, and any other type of metal pieces
  • Some intrauterine devices

While some radiology centers may be able to conduct MRI under these conditions, many cannot—and this is not an exhaustive list. So when in doubt, especially if you have any metal or magnets in your body, reach out ahead of time to make sure your MRI won’t be canceled when you arrive.

Plan ahead: If you have tattoos, find out if they contain metal.

Some patients may be surprised to find out their tattoos may pose a complication. Some tattoos, especially if they are older, are made using metallic ink that could heat up during the exam. Generally, you’ll still be able to get the MRI, but the technicians will likely give you an ice pack to place over the tattoo to avoid it heating up.

Plan ahead: Let your radiologist know if tight spaces make you nervous.

For some patients uncomfortable in or fearful of enclosed spaces, the MRI machine may make you feel claustrophobic. If that’s the case, let your technologist know: They can likely provide you with medicine before your exam to reduce your anxiety. 

Also, know that you’ll be able to speak to and hear the technologist while you’re inside the machine. And, because the magnets often make thumping noises during the exam, you’ll be provided earplugs to reduce the noise or earbuds to listen to music. 

Day of: Don’t worry about fasting or skipping medications.

Unlike before surgery, patients undergoing MRI can eat and take any medications as usual unless they’re told otherwise.

Day of: Remove any accessories that could contain metal.

Before you enter the scanning room, you may be asked to change into a medical gown. You’ll also be instructed to take off anything that contains metal or magnets, like jewelry and body piercings, glasses, watches, underwire bras, dentures, hearing aids, and more. 

Ready to get started?

Here’s what you’ll need to schedule an appointment

  • 1. Imaging referral / prescription

  • 2. Your contact information

  • 3. Insurance OR card information

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