Thursday, October 18, 2007

MRI: It's Really Not Bad

Ok, the long awaited for entry on MRIs. I will give as much factual information as I can as well as describe my experiences with MRIs. Please note that not all facilities may do MRI scans in the same way but this will give you a good, general idea of how it will all be done.

First, you will have to make sure that you have no metal on your body. This typically involves changing into "radiology" clothes. At my clinic these are navy blue pants and top. (Don't worry, these are not like hospital gowns that you have to worry about showing your butt. They are actual pants and top. Only problem I've found is the top is a bit low cut...) You will also be asked to remove any jewelry. Then you will be taken to a "waiting area" where you will be asked a fist full of questions about anything that could possibly prevent you from having the MRI done. Have you ever been shot with a bb gun? Have you ever had surgery? (50 or so different types they ask specifically) Have you ever worked as a welder? Etc. (Ladies, I do know that if you have a Paragard Copper IUD, it is safe to have an MRI but I can't tell you about any other type.)

They will then explain to you that the MRI uses magnets to produce images from inside your body. The MRI is painless. The biggest complaints is that you are in a relatively confined space and that it is EXTREMELY noisy. Now keep in mind, there are new types of MRIs that are not as confined but I can't give examples of this.

Finally, you will be led to the "magnet" room. Here you will be asked to lay on a sliding table. In my case I lay with my head towards the opening of the MRI. You will also be given ear plugs to try to help manage the sound, and I will say that we probably don't want to hear it without them. There is a "cage-like" device at the end and you place your head on the open part of it. They then stuff the open area between your head and the cage with foam fittings so that you head is nice and snug and you aren't tempted to move it. They then cover your eyes (although I think this is more to help those with confinement issues than to actually protect anything) and shut the other side of the cage over your head. The cage reminds me a bit of wearing a football helmet only it's just the cage and it's not resting on your head. They then hand you a "panic button" which I promptly move away from my hand and hold on to the cord instead so I don't hit it on accident. Finally, the table moves into the machine. How tight is it? Well, to be honest the machine is within bent arms reach when you are inside the machine. I'm not sure how else to describe it and I'm lousy at judging sizes. Basically, I can raise my hand slightly and touch the top of the machine.

Anyhow, after putting you in position they start tests. Each test runs from 30 seconds to 5 minutes (or at least that's the range for the protocol I get). After each test is finished they ask you how things are going before starting the next. It is critical that you remain as still as possible why they are running the scans so that it doesn't distort the images in any way.

So what is the test like? Each scan has a different feel and sound. Some are very loud and "obnoxious" as I call it. One of the scans is actually so quiet it nearly put me to sleep during the scan. It's just a long low humming and the machine "rocks" a bit so it was like being rocked to sleep with a lullaby. They are sure to wake you up with my all time favorite, however. I think it's one of the shorter ones at about a minute but it sounds like Star Wars is battling a jack hammer!!! It's actually hard not to break into a smile during this one if you think of it that way.

For me, since they have to do contrast, after they do 8 scans they pull me out again. They then search for a vein and inject me with a contrasting agent called gadolinium. (The only difference between this and giving blood is they are putting something INTO your bloodstream instead of taking it out.) My understanding is that gadolinium will work its way through your body and "highlight" the scans some because it reacts to the magnetic pull in a different way. In my case with the brain tumor it tells us if it has malignant tendencies or not. If the tumor enhances after the contrast, then it is likely turning malignant.

After the inject you, they put you back into the machine for a few more scans. For me this number is three. After the first part, this seems like such a short time.

After it is all done, they pull you out and you are free to leave. That's really all there is to it. I know that I had several questions before my first scan, not necessarily about the MRI but about the contrast. Many of the things I saw online made it sound like they give you an IV drip to give the contrast. Now maybe some do, but at my clinic they do not and it's proof that they don't have to if you have the intense dislike of IVs like I do. (I don't mind them if they are giving me pain meds, gonna knock me out, make me feel better, etc... I do have a problem with them being in me when I'm perfectly healthy and have too much time on my hands to think about it!!!)

I know that my other concern was that, although not claustrophobic, I'm not a fan of enclosed places. I wasn't sure if I'd be able to get through the MRI with my head in there. Honestly, unless you are just being interested in the surrounding, you don't realize it is confined. They cover your eyes and you really don't realize what is going on inside.

Alright, I think that is enough details. If anyone happens to come across this with questions on an MRI and still has questions, send me a comment and I'll try to answer it.


  1. My sis just went through this yesterday. Thank you for the post as it is exactly what she went through and we did not think to ask of what was in the shot and why it was given at that time.

  2. Is the radiation on MRI skans bad for you?

  3. Actually an MRI uses magnetic fields and does not have radiation in it so there is no exposure to radiation. The only thing you have to be cautious with is the Gadolium injection. It contains a sugar mixture that can cause problems with your kidneys.