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An MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) is a testing procedure that makes detailed images of the inside of our bodies without use of radiation.Instead, an MRI uses radio waves and a powerful magnet linked to a computer.

An MRI makes better images of organs and soft tissue than other scanning techniques, such as computed tomography (CT) or x-ray. MRI is especially useful for imaging the brain, the spine, the soft tissue of joints, and the inside of bones.  MRI images can show the difference between normal and diseased tissue.

An MRI can take 30 to 40 minutes. 

An MRI is also called Nuclear magnetic resonance imaging (NMRI)

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NOTE: If you are claustrophobic (afraid of confined spaces): 

  • Keep in mind that nothing holds you in an MRI machine. If you start to feel paniced, you can ask the technician to take you out of the machine or you can wiggle out on your own.  
  • Before entering the MRI machine, you can ask for an anti-anxiety drug. If you get an anti-anxiety drug, the testing facility will likely require that you have someone pick you up after the test is over.

What Happens During An MRI Test

An MRI is a large machine that looks like a donut with a hole in the middle.

When you first see the machine, a metal table juts into the room from the machine.

A technician will help place you on a movable table which has supports to help keep you from moving around. He or she will explain what will happen. Namely, the table will be moved into the machine.

You will be asked to stay still during the entire test. Staying still is crucial to a successful test. If you move, the test will have to be repeated. The machine is extremenly susceptible to motion. 

You will be given a "panic button" to push or a microphone to speak into if you feel you need to be brought out of the machine at any time. You will also be given earphones or plugs to reduce the noise level. (MRI machines are very noisy). Some testing facilities pipe music through the earphones. 

The test iteslf is very noisy - with various noises at different volumes occurring at different phases during the test. Sometimes there is silence between the noises. (In case you're wondering, the noise is caused by three pair of gradiants that spatially encode data and boost the magnification of the magnets).

Preparation For An MRI Test

There is nothing specifically for you to do to prepare for an MRI Test unless your test will involve contrast.

If the test will involve contrast, you will be asked if you had blood work within the past ninety (90) days. If not, the lab will require a recent blood test to be sure your kidneys are functioning well enough to rid your system of the contrast substance. Most labs can do the test on the spot if necessary. (They will call your doctor to ask for a prescription over the telephone).

If The MRI Involves Contrast

Contrast is when a dye is inserted into your system through a needle in your vein or by drinking. The dye highlights an area for the MRI scan.

Drink plenty of water and be hydrated before the test. It will help pass the contrast dye out of your system faster. If the dye will be inserted via a vein, it makes your veins more prominent which makes it easier for the technician to insert the needle.

Before entering the MRI machine, you will be asked to remove all metal from on and around your body (keys, cell phones, belts, watches, jewelry etc).  You will be asked if you have any tatoos. While all labs provide locker type areas to store your metal and valuables, it is safer to leave them home.

Tips For When You Are In An MRI Machine

  • Do what you can to stay awake during the test. If you fall asleep, you are more likely to move than when you awake.
  • If there is music piped into the area of the machine where you will be, tell the technician what music you would like. You do not have to listen to whatever they happen to have in the system from the last patient. (The music will sound loud at the beginning, but that is to offset the high volume of the noise in the MRI machine).
  • If there isn't music to listen to, think about something other than where you are. David S. pictures himself on a beach he used to walk at sunrise, with the sun just peeking over the horizon, the coldish warm sand under his feet, with waves gently washing against the beach, and Sandpiper birds running back and forth just ahead of the waves.
  • If you meditate, being in an MRI machine is a good time to practice.
  • Keep in mind that you have the choice of getting out of the machine at any time.