MRI – What to Expect

If you’ve never had an MRI, you may be a little nervous. But, there is no need to be afraid, getting an MRI is a non-invasive, safe, and painless procedure. Knowing what to expect during your exam will help you to be prepared and feel at ease.

What Is an MRI?

MRI stands for Magnetic Resonance Imaging. It uses radio waves and magnetic frequencies to create a detailed image of the inside of the body. You can think of it as a high definition version of an X-Ray, but an MRI does not produce radiation. The MRI machine has a large donut-shaped piece with a bed that goes inside.

MRI tests have become one of the most reliable methods to identify and diagnose a variety of problems within the body. This exam can be used on every system and structure from skeletal to neurological. The MRI is a powerful tool that can be used to help doctors address innumerable issues that can be related to long or short-term health complications.

Before Your Exam


Because the MRI uses a powerful magnet, you will be asked to remove all metal such as jewelry and belts before entering the exam room. It is best to dress in simple, comfortable clothing and to leave valuables at home.

You will also be asked about any medical implants, surgery, or injuries that may have resulted in metal in the body. It is very important to fully disclose any known implants or prosthesis in your body, even if you don’t think it contains any metal. If you have had any surgery or procedure in the past you should let the diagnostic team know so they can ensure the highest level of safety and comfort for your exam.

You should also disclose any tattoos you have. Some darker inks include metallic elements in the pigment.

Women should disclose even any potential of pregnancy. The intense magnetic fields might pose to a fetus, so your doctor may choose a different exam or to postpone the procedure.

It is best to wear comfortable loose fitting clothing to your exam. In most cases, you will be asked to change into a gown.

If you have a history of anxiety or claustrophobia your doctor may prescribe medication to help you relax during your exam. If you are prescribed a sedative medication you’ll want to be sure to bring a friend or family member to drive you home after your appointment.

Your exam may or may not require fasting prior to your arrival. If fasting, or avoiding certain kinds of food and drink is required, your radiologist will let you know.

In most cases, you will not need to make any special preparations for your MRI. Any special instructions will be detailed by your radiologist when you schedule your exam.

What Is Contrast?

Some MRIs require contrast, a dye that helps improve the quality of the images. Contrast is given intravenously or as a drink. If your MRI requires contrast, you will be notified when you schedule your appointment and you may be asked to fast before your exam.

If contrast is required, then you should disclose any issues that you have (previously or currently) with kidney or liver function. Problems with these organs may limit the effectiveness of contrast dyes or otherwise make them too problematic for your bodily health.

If you feel any discomfort or notice any discomfort or side-effects at the time of injection (or at any point during or after), such as rash, hives, or shortness of breath, please notify your technologist right away.

Preparing Children for an MRI

As with all medical imaging, the subject needs to remain still for the duration to ensure quality, helpful images. Headphones or video goggles may be utilized to help keep children calm during the procedure. Parents are encouraged to coach their children prior to the procedure to prepare them holding still for a long period of time. This helps reduce the need for sedatives.

What to Expect During the Exam

If you have not filled out your paperwork prior to your appointment, please plan to arrive at least 15 minutes prior to your appointment time. Be sure to bring your insurance information with you. A technician will review your paperwork and ask any clarifying questions.

You will be brought into the MRI room where you will lie down on the bed. The bed will move into the “donut” of the machine. Other than the bed you are lying on, the machine will not move or touch your body.

Once the exam begins, you will need to stay very still. The technician may ask you to hold your breath for short periods throughout the exam to ensure the best quality images. The exam is painless, though some patients may become uncomfortable from holding still for the exam.

You will hear noises coming from the machine that may sound like clicking, thumping, or chirping. For most types of exams, you will be given headphones with music to help block out the sound of the machine.

The technician will leave the room while the exam takes place, but he or she will be watching through a window and you will be able to hear and talk to each other through an intercom to help you feel at ease.

Depending on the part of the body being imaged, your exam should take between 20 and 60 minutes.

What to Expect After the MRI

After your MRI, you can return to your normal activities right away if you have not been sedated. If you have taken medication to reduce anxiety during your exam, you should avoid drinking alcohol or operating a vehicle or heavy machinery for several hours.

The images from your exam will be sent to your doctor who will interpret them and contact you with the results after a few days.

If contrast was used in your procedure, then you are advised to drink plenty of fluids to flush your system in the days following the exam.

Allergic reactions to the contrast dye used is rare, but if you notice any symptoms, such as rash, hives, or shortness of breath after leaving the clinic, you should seek medical attention right away.

If a follow-up appointment with your doctor or any additional exams is needed, your doctor will let you know. If a follow up is ordered, it is important to schedule it as directed by your doctor.

If you have any questions or concerns before or after your exam, call us and we will be happy to help.

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