What should I expect during an MRI?
Before entering the MRI machine, you will be asked to change into a gown to reduce any possibility of an external object that could impact the magnetic imaging, such as metal accessories. For example, you would be asked to remove jewelry, metal hair clips, watches, eyeglasses, hearing aids, underwire bras, and any cosmetics that may contain metal particles. To improve your MRI images, your MRI technologist may suggest a contrasting agent injected into a vein, such as gadolinium.
During the test, you will lay down on an open and moveable end of the MRI tube, then slide you into the machine. You often wear headphones and a microphone as the technologist watches from another room for their safety.
If you typically feel anxious in tight spaces, you could be provided medication to help you feel less nervous, but most can manage without. If you are sedated due to claustrophobia, you should ensure you have someone to drive you home when done. These procedures are painless and typically last anywhere from 15 minutes to 1 hour, but you are expecting to remain still to not impact the resolution of the imaging. Depending on the MRI, you may be asked to perform certain tasks, such as in an fMRI to pinpoint the areas of the brain controlling the action. Once complete, you may resume your usual activities unless directed by your doctor otherwise.
Are there any risks associated with getting an MRI?
The MRI machine contains powerful magnets and can cause a safety hazard if presented with iron-containing objects in your body internally and externally. Before getting an MRI, you will determine whether you are eligible by answering a brief questionnaire about your medical history. Items that may create a health hazard during the procedure include:
- Cardiac pacemakers or implantable defibrillators (ICDs)
- Vascular clips
- External or implanted medication pumps
- Cochlear implants
- Neurostimulation systems
- Catheters with metal components
- Bullets or shrapnel, or other fragments
- Metallic foreign body near or within the eye (more common in metal workers)
Diagnostic Radiologist Dr. Ben E. Paxton says that you should even remove your credit card and leave it outside the room. The large magnet of an MRI can easily corrupt information stored, as credit cards are magnetically encoded.
If you have any of these objects, you will want to speak with your doctor before undergoing the procedure. Some types of cardiac pacemakers, cochlear implants, medication pumps, and neurostimulation systems are safe, so you must provide your MRI technologist with information regarding your implants.
Who should avoid getting an MRI?
Those with metal implant devices, staples, or some tattoos with metal ink may require you to opt for another test. According to Dr. Paxton, those with kidney problems may have gadolinium contrast. The dye can cause nephrogenic fibrosis in people with kidney disease – thickening and hardening of tissue on the skin or joints.
Dr. Paxton also recommends that women who have recently become pregnant avoid MRIs during the first trimester while the organs and tissues are still developing. While MRIs do not cause harm to the baby as it grows up, they can raise the body’s temperature.
The costs of MRI exams can vary depending on location, facility, and where the imaging is performed on the body. You will be expected to meet your deductible if you have insurance before your insurance kicks in for payment. Otherwise, you will be expected to pay out-of-pocket. While the national average range for these procedures is $375 to $2,850, a neck MRI or even a chest MRI may cost you upwards of $10,000.