What are the uses and advantages of a MRI scan other types of scans?
MRI scanners are good at looking at the non-bony parts or "soft tissues" of the body. In particular, the brain, spinal cord and nerves are seen much more clearly with MRI than with regular x-rays and CAT scans.
Also, muscles, ligaments and tendons are seen quite well so that MRI scans are commonly used to look at knees and shoulders following injuries.
A MRI scanner uses no x-rays or other radiation. A disadvantage of MRI is it's higher cost compared to a regular x-ray or CAT scan. Also, CAT scans are frequently better at looking at the bones that MRI.
What is it like having an MRI?
You will most likely be lying on a special table that moves into the center of the magnet. Prior to going into the magnet you will be offered earplugs to reduce the noise that you hear.
You will then hear some "hammering" noises while the scanner is preparing for scanning and taking the pictures. During this hammering noise, it is important not to move, as this would blur the pictures.
You may also feel some vibration during the hammering noise and some slight movement of the table during the examination. Some patients will be given an injection in their arm of a substance that improves certain types of pictures. This substance, called a "contrast agent", is very safe and is unrelated to the iodine used for CAT scans and kidney x-rays.
What if I am pregnant?
First, you should inform your provider of your condition or the possibility that you may be pregnant. Your provider will then determine if the radiology exam is still indicated and if so, may instruct the technologist to add additional shielding and/or to abbreviate the examination.
How long will it take?
The actual exposure takes only a fraction of a second. Most of the time spent is in preparing the patient for examination and then positioning the patient for different exposures. Once the examination is completed, it only takes a few minutes to develop and prepare the films for viewing by your provider.
Can my friend accompany me into the exam room?
No. Although the technologist uses shielding and minimal amounts of radiation to the patient, any unnecessary radiation exposure is strongly discouraged.