Preparing for an MRI scan can feel a little bit gloomy. I know they can feel frightening (believe me I know!), I’ve had at least five in the last six months alone! I’ve had at least one a year for the past 22 years. My condition Neurofibromatosis Type Two (NF2) means these regular check ups are absolutely necessary. As a seasoned pro, you might think it’s easy for me to say, don’t worry, but really – DON’T WORRY! I’m about to help you understand what to expect and how to make the scan a little more comfortable.
What To Expect
MRI stands for magnetic resonance imaging, an MRI scan machine uses magnets, radio waves and a computer to illuminate whats going on inside our bodies to discover whats going right or wrong. They can be used to detect a whole host of defects insider the body, such as tumours, cysts, infections and more. The radiation is not exactly safe, so these are only given when absolutely necessary, and very rarely given to pregnant women.
Before you actually get to having a scan, each patient is required to fill out a lengthly questionnaire, This will let the hospital know how suitable you are for having the MRI scan. There are questions about your general health, previous surgeries, questions about metal that may be in your body, pregnancy, allergies and more. It is a lot of questions that are mostly yes/no answers so it takes just a few minutes to complete.
A patient undergoing an MRI scan is required to lie flat on a bed that slides in and out of a very large “tube”. Dependent on where on the body the MRI is required to scan, that area may be secured to the bed. This is because the smallest movement can disrupt the image, which can mean that the defect under investigation may appear worse, distorted or not at all on the final image. If you move and the image is distorted, the radiographer may need to start again, meaning you may need to stay in the machine longer than necessary. During scans on my brain and spine, my head is secured to the table using cushions and a plastic frame, the same technique was employed on my arm when I required a hand scan. It is a little bit uncomfortable or unpleasant but not painful.
Some MRI scans require patients to have an injection of a dye such as Gadolinium. GAD is a heavy metal, it helps to illuminate the tissue inside so that it/they appear more clearly on the images. GAD is injected into a vein, first the vein will be flushed with a sterile water, it may feel a little cold, the whole process lasts just a few minutes and is similar to giving blood. Side effects are rare but can happen, such as an allergic reaction or, for me, I often get a migraine several hours later.
MRI machines are powered by a lot of ultra strong magnets, which make a lot of very loud thumping and bumping noises, for this reason you will be given ear plugs, or sometimes headphones that play music. Most scan machines will have a mirror which is angled so that you can see out of the machine, and you’ll also be given a buzzer to press should you need to communicate with the staff via the built in speaker and microphone. Each scan usually takes between three to nine minutes, the shortest amount of time I’ve ever spent in a scanner is 20 minutes, the longest is about 90 minutes. The reason it can take so long, is to capture the ailment from all angles for a 360° view of whats going on inside.
Preparing For An MRI
- Learn to meditate. This will really help you to maintain the stillness and willpower required to tolerate the long time inside the machine.
- If you are particularly anxious, take some Kalms 30 minutes before your appointment. I wouldn’t recommend taking anything that will make you feel too out of sorts.
- Remove all jewellery and metal before you go, so you’re not fiddling around when a nurse is waiting to get you settled on the bed.
- Dress in warm clothes with no metal on them, you will usually be allowed to have the scan in these. If not you’ll be provided with a chilly linen gown.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions, I find it reassuring to walk around the machine so I can see that it is not a complete trap.
- If your anxiety is really bad, a nurse can stay in the room with you if you ask.
- If it is your child undergoing a scan, you may be required to lie on the bed with them, or sat nearby wearing an anti radiation cape.
- Blankets are available even if you’re not offered one, so don’t be afraid to ask
- Think happy thoughts, I think about what I have to look forward to, or make up songs to the beat of the magnets.
- If you must ring the buzzer, try to do so when the banging stops as this is the pause between the next scan starting.e
- Drink a lot of water after your scan is over. I do this and take Milk Thistle for two days to expel the toxic GAD from my system.
- Treat yourself! You’ve been brave, pick up a hot chocolate on your way home.
- I like to rest following a scan, it can be emotionally draining so I often feel tired afterwards.