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Frequently Asked Questions

Q:What is MRI?

A: MRI stands for Magnetic Resonance Imaging. MRI is a way of getting pictures of various parts of your body without the use of x-rays, unlike regular x-rays pictures and CAT scans. A MRI scanner consists of a large and very strong magnet in which the patient lies. A radio wave antenna is used to send signals* to the body and then receive signals back. These returning signals are converted into pictures by a computer attached to the scanner. Pictures of almost any part of your body can be obtained at almost any particular angle.


Q: How does an MRI work?

A: The body is made up of tiny particles called atoms. Protons located inside the atoms continually spin at random. The magnetic field from the MRIs magnet makes the protons line up together and spin in the same direction. Then, a radio frequency signal is beamed into the magnetic field. This signal disrupts the protons, causing them to spin out of alignment. By then turning the signal off, the protons return to their aligned position and release energy. A receiver coil measures the energy released by the disrupted protons, and the time it took the protons to return to their aligned position. This data tells us about the type of tissue where the protons are located and its condition. Now, with this information gathered, a computer can construct an image on a monitor which can be recorded on film or magnetic tape for future reference.


Q: How are MRIs different from X-rays?

A: MRI is so precise, the image taken is often the same as looking directly at the tissue (only in black and white). This clarity can lead to the early detection of disease and helps reduce the number of some diagnostic surgeries. Early detection is very valuable since it can lead to early treatment. Unlike X-rays, there are no known side effects to MRI.


Q: Are there any risks to MRI?

A: At this time, there are no known significant side effects. There are, however, some patients who are not eligible for an MR study (for instance, if you have a pacemaker).


Q: How long does the MRI exam take?

A: Exam times vary depending on the area being examined and the complexity of the case, but generally run under one hour.


Q: Is an MRI exam painful?

A: No. However, we commonly have to give an injection of a contrast agent (Gadolinium) for the MRI. This is given normally in a vein in your arm.


Q: What if I am claustrophobic?

A: Approximately 10 percent of the population has some degree of claustrophobia. Most of these patients can still be scanned in our hi-field tunnel magnets. Occasionally, a patient will need oral or in severe cases IV sedation for the hi-field scanner.


Q: Can I still have the MRI test if I have?


Dental Work - Yes, but you should remove anything that can be removed just prior to the exam.

Limb/Joint Prosthesis - Yes, but images on the area of the metal may be blurred or obscured.

Pacemaker - No.

Hearing Aid - Yes, but you must be able to remove it before the test or it may be ruined.

Implanted Infusion Pump - No.

Pregnant - Probably yes, but case details need to be discussed with your physician and a consent form signed.

Metallic Foreign Bodies - Depends on how large and where they are located, you may need X-rays of the area before a determination can be made to assess you. Please refer to the MR Patient Checklist for complete eligibility. This checklist must be completed and signed before you can have the MRI.

Checklist for complete eligibility. This checklist must be completed and signed before you can have the MRI. This is for your own safety.


Q: Should I bring with me any previous MRIs, CTs, or X-rays of the area for comparison?

A: Yes!


Q: How do I prepare for the MRI study?

A: Generally, no preparation is necessary. If you are having a scan of your abdomen or pelvis, it is helpful not to eat or drink approximately four hours prior. It is encouraged that you make a trip to the washroom right before your scan (so you will not have to go during it). You generally can stay on any medication you normally take. Wear comfortable clothes. Do not forget your insurance information and do not forget to bring any previous MRI or related exams with you for comparison.


Q: Can someone be in the scan room with me or can I be in the room with my child?

A: Yes, as long as the person with you fulfills the criteria on the MRI patient checklist.


Q: Is the MRI exam covered under my insurance?

A: Almost always yes. Our staff will contact your insurance company to verify coverage and let you know. Do not be afraid to ask them how much the exam will cost, and how much the insurance will cover. Do not forget your deductible and to mention any supplementary insurance that you may have. Bring this information with you when you come.


Q: For what types of medical problems is MRI the most useful?

A: MRI is best at seeing soft tissue. Therefore, it is very useful for nervous disorders (traumatic injuries, fluid in the skull, tumors, multiple sclerosis, and spinal conditions or diseases). It is also beneficial for musculoskeletal problems (ligament, tendon and cartilage injuries) and subtle bone injuries and tumors. MR can also evaluate the heart and blood vessels.


Q: How long before my doctor gets results?

A: Usually within 24-48 hours for non-emergency exams.


Q: What type of clothing should I wear?

A: Wear something comfortable. You may be asked to change into a gown since much of normal clothing worn contains metal.


Q: Do you have music during the exam?

A: Yes, on request. This should be of a calming variety.


Q: What preparation(s) are necessary if any child needs sedation for the MRI?

A: The child should have nothing to eat or drink for at least four hours prior to the exam time. It is also strongly suggested that the child be deprived of a full night's sleep prior to the exam.


Q: What can I do to get the best possible study?

A: Hold still. MRI and the accuracy of your exam is completely dependant on your ability to hold still.