MRI Scan
Magnetic Resonance Imaging

medical tests for women


MRI Scan


What Is An MRI Scan?
How Is An MRI Performed?
How Long Does It Take?
Does It Hurt?
What Are The Risks?
When Will I Get My Results?
How Much Does An MRI Cost?
MRI Or CT Scan?
What Is A Brain MRI?

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What Is An MRI Scan?

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a non-invasive test that provides images of inside the body. Available since the 1980s, its main advantage over other imaging techniques (like X-rays or CT scans) is that it does not emit potentially damaging radiation, nor does it generally require the use of contrast dyes. An MRI scan is particularly useful in providing detailed information on the soft tissues of the body. It has supplanted traditional X-rays for diagnosing conditions of the brain, heart and muscles. It is especially helpful in diagnosing cancers, strokes, multiple sclerosis and disorders of muscle tissue.

What Is The Most Common Reason For Having An MRI?

The most common reason people have an MRI is to diagnose the severity of a sprained ankle or the cause of back pain.

How Is An MRI Performed?

When you arrive in hospital for your scan you will be asked to remove all your clothing and wear a gown. You will also need to remove:

• Jewelry and metal objects because MRIs involve magnets.
• Body piercing's
• Hearing aids
• False teeth
• Wigs (some contain traces of metal).

Note: If only a small area such as the shoulder or ankle needs imaging, you may not have to take off all your clothes. If you don't need to wear a gown avoid clothes with metal zips, belt buckles and metal buttons; as well as under wired bras, hairpins and glasses.

You will lie on a bed which slides into a tunnel-like machine. The machine produces a strong magnetic field and sends out and receives radio waves through this field. This action results in 3D images being created which appear as sections or slices of the body. The radiologist who is operating the scan is located in a separate room to you. Although you are seperated you will be able to talk to them through an intercom and they can see you through a glass screen. The reason for the separation is to keep the computer that operates the scanner away from the magnetic field generated by the scanner. At certain times the machine will make a loud clicking sound as the magnets are turned on and off. You may be given ear phones to wear so you can listen to some music to help you relax (bring your own favorite CD if you like). It is very important that you lie very still during your scan or the images will come out blurred.

How Long Does It Take?

It depends on how many images need to be taken. If restricted to one area of the body, such as the lower back, it should only take about 30 minutes. If the whole body needs testing, you could be there for 90 minutes.

Does It Hurt?

No, an MRI is completely painless. Some patients may find it difficult to lie still for so long while others feel slightly claustrophobic in the tunnel. Newer more open MRI scanners can reduce the feeling of claustrophobia although they are not always as effective because the magnetic field is not as strong. However, for many conditions, the field is strong enough to provide an accurate diagnosis. If you are worried about feeling claustrophobic you can ask for a sedative to help you relax.

Contrast Dyes

Occasionally an MRI contrast dye is required for some examinations. This dye is injected into the bloodstream to enhance the appearance of blood vessels, inflammation and tumors. A contrast agent can also be injected directly into a joint, to enhance the appearance. This is known as an MRI arthrogram.

What Are The Risks?

There are no known health risks associated with MRI scans - 10 million patients a year undergo the procedure. There are however some restrictions:

• Pregnant women can have an MRI but the use of MRI contrast agents are not recommended. If you are, or think you may be pregnant, always tell your radiologist before a scan.
• Contrast dyes should be avoided by patients with kidney disease because they can could worsen organ damage.
• People with cardiac pacemakers are not generally eligible for MRI because the pacemaker could malfunction.

Examples of other things that could create a health hazard during an MRI exam include:

Implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD)
• Neurostimulator (implanted pulse generator (IPG))
• Aneurysm clip
• Shrapnel or bullet wounds
• Metal implant anywhere in the body
• Implanted drug infusion device
• Foreign metal objects, particularly if in or near the eye
• Permanent cosmetics or tattoos
• Transdermal medical patch that contains metal foil.

When Will I Get My Results?

You are unlikely to know the results of your scan straight away. The images will need to be studied by the radiologist and possibly shared with other specialists. The radiologist will discuss the results with the doctor who arranged your scan, who will then pass the results on to you. This may take about a week, unless the results are needed urgently.

How Much Does An MRI Cost?

An MRI scan is more expensive than a CT scan, and significantly more expensive than a traditional X-ray. The average cost of an MRI in hospital is between $1,700 and $2,200. Outpatient imaging centers which specialize in medical tests are usually cheaper - ranging from $700 to $1,000. The price will depend on the area to be scanned - a single area scan is cheaper than a body scan.

MRI Or CT Scan?

An MRI scan takes longer to perform than a CT scan, and is more expensive. It’s advantage however is that it provides much more detail of soft tissue. An MRI is usually the test of choice when investigating heart, brain or spinal cord damage.

What Is A Brain MRI?

It is an MRI scan of the head. It provides clear pictures of the brain tissue (which would not be clearly seen on a CT scan). The procedure is the same as described above.

A brain MRI can be used to determine the cause of:
Hearing loss
Vision problems
Speaking difficulties
Behavioral issues
Muscle tingling or weakness

It can diagnose:
Brain infections
Multiple sclerosis
Ischemic strokes
Hemorrhagic strokes
Brain aneurysms
Brain tumors
Bleeding in the brain
Hormone problems like Cushing syndrome.

  Related Articles on Diagnostic Testing

For more tests, see the following:

Find your way around a hospital: A to Z of departments.
Head problems: A to Z of symptoms and conditions.

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