An MRI scan is a powerful diagnostic tool that uses magnetism, radio waves and a computer to create detailed images of your organs and tissues. You lie on a movable bed that glides through a tube surrounded by a large circular magnet.
The test is painless and doesn’t expose you to radiation.
What are people nervous about when they come for an MRI?
Mostly they’re anxious because they don’t know what to expect. You can’t see, taste, feel or smell an MRI.
Probably 30% of patients are really fearful. It’s either about the test process or thinking about the test outcome that makes them nervous.
It also depends on what was happening before they came in. If they had a stressful morning, it can affect their experience. So I recommend they try to create some calm before their appointment.
Have you had an MRI?
I have—when I was in training we scanned ourselves. I’d say about half of MRI techs are claustrophobic, but I’m not one of them.
What’s a common misconception about MRIs?
Patients sometimes get MRIs and CT scans confused. They’ve had a CT scan, but I explain that MRIs make more noise and the length of the bore they go into is much longer.
Some patients have had an MRI on a leg or knee, where they go feet first into the machine, leaving their head outside the tube. But with a head or upper body scan, you have to go in head first.
What to expect
Noise – I tell kids the MRI process kind of sounds like a Star Wars movie—beeping, banging and clanging. Or you might think it’s like a construction site with loud knocking and pounding.
Let us know if you prefer earplugs or a headset to listen to music. Ninety percent of people take the music. We can connect to your iPhone or iPod or to a local radio station. It helps relax and distract you.
Time – the average MRI takes 25 to 30 minutes, or 45 to 50 minutes when you have a contrast injection. A test with contrast, determined by your radiologist or primary doctor, takes longer because we take images pre-contrast and post-contrast.
Stillness – MRI images are 3D, with individual pixels almost like a photo from a cell phone camera. If you move, fidget or cough, you get a blur and the radiologist can’t read the image.
David’s tips for overcoming MRI anxiety
- Destress before the test – listen to some soothing music, take a 10-minute walk or sit quietly in your car for a few minutes and do some deep breathing.
- Consult with your MRI tech – once your primary care doctor orders the test, you can call Toll Gate with your questions. We’re here to help you feel comfortable with the process.
- Know that you’re in control – before you go into the tube, I’ll hand you an emergency buzzer you can use to signal if you’re in distress. We can stop the process and talk any time. Keep in mind that if we interrupt the test, we’ll need to start again at the beginning.