Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is a diagnostic imaging exam. The technology uses a temporary magnetic field and radio waves. Because the human body is made up of mostly water, the technology is designed to react with the water in the body to create a detailed picture. The energy used is temporary and has no lasting effects.

A radiologist views the images to identify possible abnormalities or diseases. This is the best way to detect and characterize normal and abnormal structures in your body.

What to expect for an MRI scan

Exams can take between 20 and 60 minutes, depending on what type of study you are having. You will lie on a table that goes through a tube. The exam involves several imaging sequences, each lasting one to five minutes. Your technologist will tell you how long each sequence will take. Sometimes you will be instructed to briefly hold your breath.

During the imaging sequences, you will need to remain as still as possible, since motion will cause blurring of the images. You can expect to hear knocking sounds and maybe the sensation of mild tapping or vibrations. These are completely normal.

What not to wear to an MRI

We want you to be comfortable for your exam. Unfortunately, some of today’s stretch athletic clothing contain small metal threads. These fibers are used to help stop odor and prevent bacteria from building up. When it comes to MRIs, though, these metal threads are dangerous.

Several years ago, my colleagues and I were among the first to discover that clothing with these metal threads can be potentially unsafe while in an MRI scanner. We will provide safe and comfortable clothing to wear for your exam. We also encourage you to avoid wearing clothing items that indicate the use of “coolmax” or “silver technology” for your exam. These terms typically indicate the use of metal threads.

I am claustrophobic and I need an MRI. What should I do?

The scanners for MRIs are wide tubes, built so that the magnetic field can be uniformly applied to your body. This allows us to get the best possible pictures during the exam.

There is space around your body in the tube, which is open at both ends. Depending on the type of MRI exam you are having, you may be looking up at the inside of the MRI scanner.

We understand that some people may become anxious in what feels like a confined space. If you believe you may be claustrophobic during your MRI, you are invited to view the MRI system in advance of the exam. It can help if you to know what to expect. Some imaging locations also offer larger entry tubes, known as Open MRI.

Our technologists have years of professional experience. They want to achieve the best scan for our patients and they will talk to you throughout the test. Sometimes they will offer breaks during the procedure, moving you out of the scanner for a short time before completing additional sequences.

Our staff focuses on patience, support, knowledge, and kindness. We hope you will find that helps you with your experience. But if these are not enough, we offer distraction with music of your choosing. Some of our systems may even offer an opportunity to watch a movie during your scan.

If you still believe you may be too anxious for an MRI, we encourage you to talk to your referring provider about prescribing a short-acting medication, such as Ativan, to help you relax during your exam.

Final advice before your MRI

You might be surprised by the peace and tranquility that the MRI environment offers. For some, it offers a break from the chaos of your daily routine. Take advantage of the opportunity to listen to your choice of music before your MRI scan begins. Relax, and let us help you.

To learn more about MRIs and for answers to frequently asked questions, visit our Magnetic Resonance Imaging website.

Jeffrey M. Rogg, MD

Dr. Jeffrey M. Rogg is director of neuroradiology and medical director of magnetic resonance imaging at Rhode Island Hospital. He is also an associate professor of diagnostic imaging at The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, where he teaches cross-sectional imaging and neuroradiology. Dr. Rogg has been named as a featured “Best Doctor” by Rhode Island Monthly eight times.