5 Things to Ask Your Radiologist Before Your First MRI

Brain tumor diagnosis

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is a technique used by physicians to help diagnose a variety of conditions by producing high quality photos of bones, organs, and nearly all other internal structures. Some diagnostic imaging centers have MRI scanners with 3D capability, which are able to produce even more detailed images that allow the physician to see the scanned area from all angles.

If you’re a first timer, there’s nothing to be afraid of. MRI scans are a routine procedure?nearly 30 million scans are performed in the U.S. annually?so it’s likely that your radiologist has seen their fair share of MRI patients. However, you should sit down with them to discuss exactly what’s going to happen. Here are some things you may want to ask:

  1. How long will the MRI take? You can usually expect an MRI to take up a fair amount of time. Each image can take up to 15 minutes to capture and it’s likely that multiple images will be taken. Depending on what parts of your body the radiologist is scanning, you could be done in half an hour or be lying still in the scanner for an hour or more. Your doctor can usually give you a time frame, assuming the scan goes as expected.
  2. What will I need to do to prepare for my MRI scan? Your doctor should give you detailed instruction on what you should and shouldn’t do before you arrive. For instance, you may not be able to eat for at least two hours before the test. Each patient is different, so make sure you ask.
  3. Will I have to stay still the entire time? Yes, it is expected that the patient remain as still as possible in order to produce the best images possible. There is a fan in the scanner to maximize comfort. You can also talk to your physician through an intercom or listen to music through headphones.
  4. I’m claustrophobic and am nervous about being in a tight space. Is there another option? The closed, tube-like scanners you may be picturing in your head are “closed” scanners. More recently, open MRI scanners have become popular options, as the enclosure leaves free space on either side of the patient, allowing them to be more comfortable as the scan occurs. Ask if your diagnostic imaging center is equipped with an open MRI machine.
  5. Are there any reasons I would not be allowed to have an MRI? The short answer is yes, due to the high frequency of magnetic force that the scanners produce, there are a variety of conditions that would affect a patient’s ability to have an MRI. Pregnancy, especially during the first three months, is highly discouraged, but can be done with caution out of necessity. Having a Pacemaker, metal implants, artificial heart valves, tattoos, piercings, among other things, should be mentioned to your doctor before the MRI is scheduled. The radiologist should ask you if you have any of these conditions during your appointment, and will modify the MRI or recommend alternative treatment.