April 3, 2024
April 3, 2024

How to Prepare for an MRI Scan and What to Expect

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How to Prepare for an MRI Scan and What to Expect

Magnetic resonance imaging, commonly known as MRI, is a type of medical imaging that uses strong magnetic fields and radio waves (instead of ionizing radiation like an X-ray) to examine the internal structures of the body. Your healthcare provider may order an MRI scan to better understand what is causing symptoms. Or, in the case of a screening MRI, it can help detect abnormal changes in your body before you even have symptoms.

Here, you’ll learn how to prepare for an MRI exam and what to expect during and after the screening. This is a general guide to help you prepare for a standard diagnostic MRI and an Ezra scan. 

How to Prepare for an MRI Before Your Appointment

While each radiology department or imaging center has specific protocols for its tests, the steps below offer general guidance on preparing for an MRI scan. 

1. Fill Out the Medical Questionnaire

To ensure your safety and that of the MRI staff, technologist, and radiologist (a physician specializing in medical imaging), you will be asked to complete a screening questionnaire before your exam. This will help your radiology provider determine if an MRI procedure is right for you. Pre-scan questionnaires are given to identify potential medical implants, body modifications like tattoos, embeds, and piercings, the reason for the scan, and any medical conditions you may have.

2. Bring Necessary Documents

How to prepare for an MRI: senior man taking some documents from a nurse

Before you arrive for your scan, there are several considerations to keep in mind. In addition to any instructions you have received from your provider, refer to the following checklist.

What to bring with you:

  • Valid photo identification
  • Insurance card
  • Payment method
  • Paperwork from your primary care provider (or the person who ordered the exam)
  • Previous imaging reports 
  • Medication list that includes the dose and frequency

3. Follow These Other Must-Know Guidelines

You should receive specific instructions from your radiology provider about how to prepare for an MRI. However, you can refer to these basic instructions for education and informational purposes:

  • Wear soft, comfortable clothing, underwear, and socks free of metal fasteners like snaps, hooks, buttons, zippers, or underwires.
  • You may be asked to change into a hospital gown or other garments that are provided. Some facilities provide scrubs, hospital gowns, or pajamas.
  • You will continue taking your prescribed medications for most MRI scans, so follow your prescriber's instructions.
  • In most cases, you can eat and drink as normal before your scan
  • There should be no children or adults that require supervision at your appointment
  • Discuss claustrophobia and MRI-related anxiety, including aversion to loud noises, with your MRI technologist
  • Discuss potential interference from metal objects with your MRI technologist. These may include:
    • Implanted pacemakers
    • Aneurysm clip
    • Prosthetic heart valves
    • Synthetic joint replacements
    • Non-removable body piercings
    • Hearing aids
    • Cochlear implants
    • Dental work that contains metal, including some partial or full dentures
    • Metal implants 
    • Metal fragments in the body, such as shrapnel
    • Tattoos that contain metallic ink

How to Prepare for an MRI With Contrast

It's important to note that there are two types of MRI imaging: MRI with contrast and MRI without contrast. Contrast is when a liquid (such as gadolinium) is injected into the body to make certain soft tissues more visible during the imaging process.

Choosing a contrast medium depends on the medical condition or part of your body being evaluated and the radiologist's judgment. In some cases, exams that don't typically require contrast may benefit from its use for better visualization or diagnosing illness. For example, more detail may be necessary when attempting to differentiate between tissue types or evaluate disease progression. 

Some of the specific conditions that may require an MRI with contrast are: 

  • TIA (transient ischemic attack): Sometimes called a mini-stroke, TIA happens when blood vessels or blood flow to the brain is blocked
  • Thrombosis: Blood clots in the circulatory system
  • Venous insufficiency: Difficulty in the veins of the legs pumping blood back to the heart 

Preparing for an MRI with contrast entails a few differences: 

  • Blood tests may be needed to check for kidney function before the contrast injection, especially if you have kidney disease or diabetes.
  • Certain medications may be skipped or temporarily stopped before the exam (e.g., metformin for diabetes).
  • You might be asked not to eat or drink anything for 4-6 hours before the test.
  • Before the exam, an IV catheter will be inserted (usually in the arm or hand) to deliver contrast. The contrast dye will be injected this way during the MRI.
  • Allergy screening will be conducted to determine if you have sensitivities or allergic reactions to contrast agents.

What to Expect During an MRI Exam

During the scan, you lie inside the MRI, a large tube-like machine. MRIs use a powerful magnet and radio waves to gather and process data about your internal organs to create detailed images. Remaining still inside the machine throughout the process ensures clear and accurate images.

While inside the scanner, you can expect to hear loud knocking, thumping, or buzzing sounds. These sounds are normal and are caused by the electrical currents used to generate the magnetic fields. The technologist will provide earplugs or special headphones to protect your hearing. Some providers, like Ezra, allow you to listen to music playlists, meditations, or podcasts. If you need to speak to the technologist, there will be an intercom system within the MRI machine to facilitate communication.

The duration of an MRI exam varies based on the area being imaged and the number of images required. Typically, it can range from 20 minutes to over an hour. Certain exams may necessitate multiple sequences or scans, potentially extending the overall time. Staying still and following the technologist's instructions during the procedure helps to ensure high-quality images. 

What Happens After the MRI Exam

After your MRI scan is completed, a radiologist will carefully analyze and interpret the images. They will look for any abnormalities, lesions, or areas of concern related to the specific body part or condition being evaluated.

You will not receive the results immediately after the MRI exam. The radiologist will compile a detailed report with their findings and send it to your referring physician or the doctor who ordered the MRI exam. Your doctor will review the radiologist's report and discuss the findings with you during a follow-up appointment. Depending on the complexity of the case and the radiologist's workload, it may take several days or longer to receive the final report and results.

How to Prepare for an MRI With Ezra

How to prepare for an MRI: senior woman using a laptop for a video call

If you’re wondering what to expect during a full-body MRI with Ezra, the Ezra Scan uses the same MRI technology to create detailed images of your whole body. 

However, unlike diagnostic imaging techniques used to investigate existing symptoms, an Ezra Scan focuses on proactive health. In other words, you can get screened for hundreds of potential abnormalities in up to 13 organs before you ever experience any symptoms. 

Regarding how to prepare for an MRI with Ezra, there are many similarities to prepping for a standard MRI and a few notable differences:

  • You can book your scan online
  • Complete your medical questionnaire online by the stated deadline to avoid having to reschedule your scan
  • Once approved, your medical practitioner will write an order for your exam — no need to ask your doctor for a referral
  • Arrive 30 minutes before your scheduled appointment at your local Ezra partner facility and check in for your scan
  • Ezra staff will guide you through the process
  • Ask questions if you have any concerns
  • Store your belongings in a locker
  • Change into the pajamas and slippers that Ezra provides
  • Make sure to remove all metal from your body and make sure that your undergarments are also metal-free
  • During the scan, which lasts between 30 minutes and one hour, try to lie completely still
  • Expect loud noises — earplugs or headphones are available
  • Follow instructions from your technologist about breathing and movement to avoid blurry or poor-quality images
  • Resume your normal activities
  • You’ll receive your results electronically within 5-7 business days via an Ezra Report that you may discuss with a healthcare professional via a telehealth visit

Don’t Wait for Symptoms: Learn How to Prepare for an MRI Now

MRI technology is a safe way to get a proactive screening and comprehensive look at your health without ionizing radiation. Most MRIs are ordered to diagnose diseases, evaluate the function of specific parts of your body, or investigate symptoms. While MRI technology is similar across the board, an Ezra scan is slightly different. 

An Ezra Full Body MRI is a form of proactive healthcare that screens for diseases before symptoms arise — and as we know, early detection is the best defense against cancer. An Ezra Scan takes just one hour and screens for cancer in up to 13 organs. Moreover, Ezra doesn't require an order or referral from your doctor. Instead, the process is managed online through a convenient telehealth consult.

When you’re ready for added peace of mind, book your MRI scan with Ezra. You’ll be glad you did.