Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Patient Preparation

What is an MRI exam?

Magnetic resonance Imaging (MRI) is a method of looking inside the body. Instead of x-rays, the MRI scanner uses a strong magnetic field and radio waves to produce clear pictures of your head, spine or other parts of your body.

Is MRI safe?

The magnetic field and radio waves are safe and no adverse health effects have been reported with normal use. However, people with certain metal devices in their body cannot be safely scanned with MRI (see below). There are no X-rays or other similar radiation used in MRI.

Why is this test important?

MRI is a non-invasive way for your doctor to examine your organs and tissues in great detail from many angles. It produces high resolution images of the body that can help diagnose a variety of problems.

What is involved with an MRI scan?

During an MRI scan you will need to lie very still while the pictures are being taken. The MRI table will then slide into the MRI scanner. The scanner is well lit and ventilated, and you can talk to the MRI technologist performing the scan. If you like, you can listen to music which helps to pass the time.

Occasionally, an injection of a dye substance is given into a vein to provide extra detail to the pictures.

Preparing for the exam

You or your physician should arrange to send related previous films to the hospital prior to the day of your exam. Unless specified by your physician, there is no special diet or preparation necessary with the following exception:

If you are scheduled for an MRI of the abdomen, you will be required to have nothing to eat or drink for 4 hours prior to your appointment time. The MRI department will notify you if this is the case.

Do I need to arrive early for my appointment?

Yes, please arrive at the Diagnostic Imaging department 20 minutes prior to your appointment. When you arrive you will need to complete a safety form and answer questions pertaining to your medical history. This screening form and your medical history will be reviewed and the MRI Technologists will explain the MRI process to you.

What should I wear?

You will be required to change into a hospital gown prior to the exam. You will need to remove all metal from your body before the exam. This includes your watch, jewelry, coins, keys, bobby pins, credit cards, glasses, hearing aids, pocket knives, etc. A space will be provided for your clothing, jewelry and personal items but please leave your valuables at home or locked in the car.

Will it hurt?

No. Since MRI is non-invasive, the exam is painless. However, the doctor may utilize a contrast agent to better visualize a part of your anatomy. If this is the case, you may receive a needle prior to or during the exam which will be used to inject a solution called a contrast agent. This allows the Radiologist to see the image more clearly. MRI contrast agents typically have few or no side effects.

Will I feel anything?

To begin the exam, you will lie down on the scan table. When the machine starts to work, you'll hear some loud knocking sounds. These sounds occur whenever the MRI pictures are being taken. Think of them as the clicks a very large camera would make when taking pictures! We will provide headphones with music to help block out the knocking sounds. Their use will not prevent you from hearing the MRI technologist if he or she speaks to you during the exam.

Although it's noisy, an MRI exam is completely painless. The only thing you must do is hold still. When you take a picture with a camera, your subject must keep still or the picture will come out blurry.  It's the same with an MRI machine.  If you move, the scans will be out of focus - and you may have to repeat the exam. 

Will I fit?

There are very few patients who cannot be comfortably accommodated for an MRI exam. Health PEI purchased a new MRI scanner Spring 2019 which is wider than the previous scanner.

Will I be all the way in the scanner?

That will depend on your height and what part of your body is being scanned. The part that is being imaged is in the middle of the scanner. 

For example, if your knee or ankle is being scanned, you will go in feet first and your head will be outside of the MRI scanner. If it is your head, neck, abdomen, or pelvis being scanned, you will go in head first.

Will I be claustrophobic? 

Most people have no reaction at all. However, if you have had claustrophobic reactions to enclosed spaces before, you should let your ordering doctor know as they can prescribe you medication which will help you complete the test successfully. If you are uncomfortable in small spaces, the MRI technologists can help you with tips and tricks to complete the study.

Will I be alone?

You will be in contact with an MRI technologist at all times. Even when he or she is not in the MRI room, you will be able to talk to him or her by intercom. The MRI technologist is always able to see you through a large patient-viewing window.

Do I have to hold still the whole time?

Yes, you do have to remain as still as possible. Moving during the procedure may require repeating parts of the exam so it is best to try to remain still for the best exam results. If you are having daily pain or pain when laying down, it is important to address that before the exam by speaking with your physician about it and taking your pain medications as prescribed.

How long will the exam take?

That will depend on what is being studied, but a typical exam lasts between 15 and 30 minutes once you are in position. Having said that, certain exams may take up to 60 minutes and you should always allow extra time in case the exam lasts longer than expected.

Are there things that will prevent me from being scanned? 

Due to the strong magnetic field used during the exam, certain implants may prevent you from being able to safely have an MRI. These implants are few (some pacemakers, aneurysm clips, neurostimulators, etc), however it is crucial that anyone with any implants notify the MRI technologist. 

When you arrive, you will meet with the MRI technologist. You will be required to provide a health history detailing any surgeries and implants you have had in your lifetime. In some cases, your appointment may need to be rescheduled if there is more information required (such as operative records from previous surgeries). When ordering your exam, your physician will go over some preemptive questions so if there is further information needed, the MRI department can acquire that information before you come for your appointment.

If there are any concerns, the Radiologist will determine if a particular implant is approved to be in the MRI environment.

Pregnancy & MRIs

If you are pregnant or could be pregnant at the time of your scan appointment, please call the Diagnostic Imaging department to discuss and so your doctor can be consulted. MRI can be used during pregnancy based on a risk vs benefit discussion between the Radiologist and your physician. If it is a routine exam, your MRI could be delayed until after delivery out of an abundance of caution.  Alternatively, the exam could be changed to another imaging modality (such as Ultrasound) should that suffice.

All that said, there are no proven risks to pregnant women or fetuses from MRI exams. In many sites around the world, MRI is used to examine pregnant women and their fetuses. 

MRI contrast is not used during pregnancy.

When will I receive the results?

The MRI scan will be interpreted by the Radiologist within a few business days (some urgent scans will be read the same day). The written report is then sent to the requesting physician, either by mail or fax. This whole process may take up to a week, on average. 

Some Island physicians can access the MRI images online immediately after the scan; as well as the report online once it is interpreted by the Radiologist.

Please note: The MRI technologist cannot give you the results of the scan. You can call your physician’s office once you get your MRI appointment to make arrangements to get the results. 

How do I contact Diagnostic Imaging Services?

Queen Elizabeth Hospital
60 Riverside Drive
PO Box 6600
Charlottetown, PE   C1A 8T5

Telephone:  (902) 894-2446


Published date: 
March 10, 2021
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