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What to Expect During Your First MRI Scan


an MRI machine

An MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan is a diagnostic imaging test that uses powerful magnets and radio waves to create detailed images of the inside of your body. An MRI allows doctors to examine your organs, tissues and other structures in great detail to help diagnose injuries and disease.


The purpose of an MRI is to take clear, highly detailed pictures of internal organs and tissues without needing invasive surgery or radiation. It provides different information compared to other imaging tests like X-rays, CT scans or ultrasound. An MRI gives your doctor an inside visual look at your body's structures to help detect a wide range of health conditions.


This guide will walk you through everything you need to know to prepare for and successfully get through your first MRI scan. Understanding the process ahead of time will help you feel informed and less anxious. An MRI is painless and most people find the test comfortable. With the right preparation, your MRI experience can be straightforward and worry-free.


Before Scheduling

a calendar with pushpins marking dates

When your doctor orders an MRI scan, there are some key things to do before scheduling the appointment.


  • Ask questions. Make sure you understand why your doctor is recommending an MRI, what body part will be scanned, and what they hope to learn from the results. Understanding the purpose can help you feel less anxious. 

  • Check insurance coverage. MRIs can be expensive, so contact your health insurance provider to find out if the scan will be covered. Ask about any out-of-pocket costs you may need to pay. 

  • Research locations. Look into having your MRI done at an imaging center, hospital radiology department, or open MRI facility. Consider convenience, cost, and your comfort level with enclosed spaces when choosing. 

  • Compare providers. It's okay to call around and compare prices between locations. Also ask if they have experience scanning children if needed.


Taking the time to do your research beforehand helps ensure you get quality images done affordably and comfortably. Don't be afraid to advocate for yourself if you have any concerns. The more you understand about the process, the less anxiety you'll feel.


During Scheduling

Once your MRI is scheduled, you'll want to confirm all the key details like the appointment date, time, and location. Be sure to ask the scheduler how long the scan is expected to take so you can plan accordingly. It's also important to check if you were given any special preparation instructions for your specific scan. For example, they may ask you to avoid eating for a certain number of hours beforehand. Make sure you understand if there are any restrictions on what you can wear, jewelry, etc. Some facilities will have you change into a gown. Knowing what to expect ahead of time will help ensure everything goes smoothly on the day of your scan. Don't be afraid to ask lots of questions so you are fully prepared.


24-48 Hours Before Your MRI Scan

 In the 24-48 hours leading up to your MRI scan, there are some important steps to take to ensure the scan goes smoothly.


Avoid Certain Foods and Medications

a healthy looking salad

Some foods and medications can interfere with MRI results, so it's important to avoid them in the day or two before your scan. Common items to avoid include:


  • Certain iron supplements or multivitamins with iron

  • Food and drinks containing caffeine

  • Antihistamines like Benadryl

  • Medications containing amphetamines


Check with your doctor about any medications you take regularly and verify there are no restrictions. Stop taking any questionable medicines in advance so they are out of your system.


Confirm Preparation Instructions

Make sure you have clear prep instructions from the MRI facility. This may involve fasting for several hours before the test or avoiding any food and drink. Confirm timing and guidelines.


Some facilities provide oral contrast or IV fluids before an MRI which require special prep. Know if you need to refrain from eating or only consume clear liquids. Review all directions you've been given.


Arrange Transportation

a busy london street with a bus and auto on it

You cannot drive yourself home after the MRI scan. The MRI machine can impair implants like pacemakers. You may also be given sedatives that prohibit driving.


Arrange for a friend or family member to drive you to and from the appointment. Public transportation and taxis can work too. Just make sure you have a safe ride planned out.


Following proper protocol in the 24-48 hours before hand ensures your scan goes according to plan. Let your MRI facility know if you have any questions come up.


Day Before

 The day before your MRI scan is when you want to start preparing in earnest. Here are some tips for getting ready:


  • Stop eating solid foods after midnight the night before your scan. You will likely need to fast for 6-8 hours beforehand. Drink plenty of water and avoid caffeine or alcohol. 

  • Begin hydrating by drinking extra water. This will help provide clearer MRI images. Avoid any drinks with caffeine. 

  • Remove all jewelry, hair clips, watches, safety pins, coins, keys, hearing aids, dentures, eyeglasses, and any metal objects. The strong MRI magnet will pull on any metal, so leave valuables at home. 

  • Wear comfortable clothing without metal snaps, zippers, buttons, or ornamentation. You may be given a gown to change into. 

  • Try on any braces or medical devices you may need to wear during the scan to ensure they're MRI safe. Notify your doctor of any implants or devices inside your body. 

  • Arrange for any medications you need to take the day of the scan. Speak with your doctor about any prescription timing concerns. 

  • Don't wear makeup or nail polish. They can contain metals that interfere with the MRI.  

  • Make sure you have someone to drive you home after the scan. You cannot drive yourself. 

  • Get a good night's sleep and try to stay relaxed. If you feel anxious, practice breathing exercises or meditation.


Day of MRI

cup of coffee on a nightstand

Arrive early at the imaging center or hospital where your MRI scan is scheduled. This gives you time to complete any check-in or paperwork requirements and change into a hospital gown if needed.


Bring any paperwork you were given, insurance cards, and photo ID. The center will verify your information and may ask you to fill out additional forms.


Follow the check-in process when you arrive. An MRI technician will explain what to expect during your scan and go through a safety checklist to make sure you can safely undergo the procedure (e.g. no metal on your body). 


You will be asked to remove all clothing, jewelry, and accessories before entering the scan room. You will change into a hospital gown and may be given scrubs or pants as well. Lockers are provided to secure your personal belongings.


Before the scan begins, you may receive an IV injection of contrast dye if your doctor ordered this. Contrast dye helps improve the visibility of certain tissues and organs in the images.


When it's time for your scan, the technician will help position you on the movable exam table. You'll lie down and a device called a coil will be placed over or around the area being scanned. The technician will give you earplugs or headphones to wear to protect your hearing during the loud tapping noises of the MRI machine.


Try to relax, breathe normally, and lie still during the MRI. This helps produce clear images. The technician can see and hear you the entire time. Let them know if you need anything or feel uncomfortable.


During the Scan

 The MRI scanner will make very loud noises during the scan as part of the normal process. You may hear loud banging, buzzing, knocking, or other noises at different times. This is completely normal.


It's important to remain completely still during the entire scan, usually 30-90 minutes, to avoid blurring the images. The technician will provide you with ear protection to block some of the noise. If you have questions or feel uncomfortable at any time, speak to the technician over the intercom. Let them know if you need anything like a blanket, music, or just a short break.


Move as little as possible, including your eyes. Don't nod or shake your head. Blinking and shallow breathing are fine. The technician will give you breathing instructions and cues during the scan. Stay relaxed and follow their directions. Some centers even provide movie goggles so you can watch a movie during the scan.


After the Scan

two children writing a finish line in chalk on the street

 Once your MRI scan is complete, you will be able to get dressed and go about your day. The technician will let you know when your results will be sent to your doctor.


It's completely normal to feel a little anxious waiting for your results. Remember that the technicians running the scan are highly trained professionals. Try not to obsessively google your symptoms or MRI scans while you wait. Distract yourself with activities you enjoy. 


When your doctor contacts you with the results, make sure to follow up on any next steps they recommend. Write down instructions for medications, physical therapy, or follow up scans. Ask any questions you may have about the findings and what they mean for your health going forward.


If the results come back all clear, congratulate yourself for getting through the MRI scan. If further treatment is needed, maintain hope. Your doctor will work with you to come up with the best plan to get you back to full health. Stay focused on each day of recovery at a time. You've taken the first step by getting scanned.


Children and MRI Scans

 Children often find MRI scans to be scary and intimidating. As a parent, there are several things you can do to help prepare your child and make them as comfortable as possible:


  • Explain what an MRI is in simple terms. Use kid-friendly comparisons like a camera taking special pictures or a spaceship ride. Avoid using scary words like radiation. 

  • Show your child MRI photos and videos so they know what to expect. Pintrest has some great MRI images for kids. 

  • Consider bringing a favorite toy, blanket, book, or tablet loaded with games and videos. This gives them a happy distraction. 

  • Play act with a stuffed animal getting an MRI. Walk them through entering the room, lying still on the table, hearing the noises, etc. 

  • Offer comfort items like earplugs or headphones to muffle noise, warm blankets, and letting them wear comfy clothes. 

  • Work with your child's doctor to arrange sedation if your child cannot relax enough to lie still. This may involve oral medication or IV anesthesia. 

  • For young kids, schedule the scan to coincide with natural sleep times. Scanning a sleeping child provides the best results.


With preparation and understanding, an MRI does not need to be a scary experience for kids. Maintaining a calm, supportive attitude as the parent can go a long way in making your child feel safe and comfortable.


A Summary of "Your First MRI Scan"

a crescent moon reflecting off the ocean

 Getting an MRI scan for the first time can seem daunting, but being prepared and knowing what to expect can help ease anxiety. Here are some key takeaways:


  • Give your doctor your full medical history to assess safety and compatibility with the MRI machine. Inform them of any implants, devices, tattoos, or piercings.  

  • Follow all instructions for preparing for the scan, like not eating for a certain period before. Arrive early and expect the appointment to take up to an hour. 

  • The MRI machine is loud but should not be painful. You'll have to lie still for periods of up to 90 minutes. Communicate any discomfort immediately. 

  • Remain calm and relaxed. Anxious movements can distort the images. Breathing exercises and meditation can help. The medical staff are there to monitor and assist you. 

  • In most cases, you can resume normal activities immediately after. Results will go to your doctor who will explain them and recommend any needed treatment.


For more information, consult reputable medical sources like WebMD, Mayo Clinic, and medical center websites. Your doctor and MRI technician are also great resources for any questions or concerns.

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