Doctors rely on magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, to peer inside the body to diagnose diseases and come up with a treatment plan. The scan is relatively painless, and unlike an X-ray or computed tomography (CT) scan, there’s no radiation. Instead, an MRI creates images of the body by generating a magnetic field. (For more information comparing CT and MRI scans, check out our post.)
But, for some children and adults, an MRI can be uncomfortable or scary. It requires patients to lie still, typically for 30 to 60 minutes. Even for those who don’t mind the process of getting an MRI, hearing the results — especially about life-threatening diseases like cancer — can also be understandably stressful.
Ann Hester, the MRI modality manager for AdventHealth in Central Florida, is accustomed to working with patients who are anxious about getting an MRI. That’s why she’s taken a series of steps to make this crucial scan as comfortable as possible.
Sometimes, calming MRI fears means changing the experience. Watching a movie or listening to music can provide a needed distraction.
In other cases, that means changing the machines themselves. Some newer models, called “wide bore” scanners, have wider openings, brighter lighting and entertainment.
Often, our fears come from imagining the worst. Learning what’s likely to happen during an MRI may help ease your anxiety.
What to Expect From Your MRI
Before you enter the MRI room, we’ll take steps to ensure you’re safe and not wearing any metal. Because an MRI operates with a strong magnetic field, any metal object near it can create a safety hazard. Some clothing is filled with tiny metal microfibers, so we provide comfortable scrubs — drawstring pants and a top — to wear.
For those with a pacemaker or other implanted medical device, our team follows the product guidelines and safety recommendations described by its manufacturer.
You’ll be asked to lie on the MRI table and told when to be still. In some cases, your doctor may ask for an MRI “with contrast,” meaning a small amount of dye will be injected into your veins to create a clearer picture.
Young children, along with adults whose pain or anxiety makes it difficult to lie still, may be given sedation or anesthesia. While this is still an option, we offer additional alternatives to avoid the increase in scan time and risk.
Some young children are more likely to stay calm in the presence of a parent or guardian. After we ensure they’re safe to enter the room, parents are welcomed to remain inside during the MRI.
The length of the MRI changes based on the specific type ordered, but 30 to 60 minutes is typical. Patients will hear a knocking sound, but they’re given earplugs and headphones to reduce the noise.
Movies and More in the MRI
There’s nothing to be ashamed of if you’re afraid of getting an MRI.“If you’re anxious about getting an MRI, we’ll do everything we can to make your experience comfortable,” Hester says. “We understand every patient’s needs are different and we’re prepared to spend time and get you through your MRI.”
Here’s some of what we offer to make the experience as pleasant as we can:
- Music: Patients can pick what type of music they want to listen to.
- Movies: At some locations, we offer movie experiences. Patients can wear video goggles in certain locations or watch on a large screen in others.
- Call button: You’re not alone during your MRI. Your technologist can see and hear you. To ensure communication, we provide a small ball that makes a noise when squeezed whenever attention is needed.
- Eye masks: Some people fall asleep or relax more easily if they wear a mask or cover their face with a washcloth.
- Anti-stress coaching: We give patients relaxation tips including breathing, meditation and visualization techniques.
- Feet-first entry: For some exams ordered, patients can enter the MRI feet first to help remove some of that anxiety by keeping your head outside of the scanner.
- Wide-bore MRI: We offer “wide-bore” MRI machines that are wider and shorter than traditional options, giving patients more room. Wider machines also offer options for patients up to 550 pounds or who have wide shoulders.
The use of these techniques has allowed us to lower our sedation rate at AdventHealth Celebration from 6.5% to 2%. And, our newer MRI machines are often faster and improve resolution.
Your Family’s Whole Health in Mind
We know how family members support our patients, and it’s part of our job to support them in return.
Whether they want to join their loved one in the MRI room or not, family members can expect to be safe and taken care of, too.
“I take care of them like they are my family,” Hester says.
We also offer evening and weekend MRI appointments, so you don’t have to take time off from work or school.
An MRI scans your body, but we’re concerned with your whole-person health. That means our team uses the latest technology and supportive services to calm your anxieties about having an MRI. This test is so often a critical step on the path to healing, so we do everything we can to make sure that it works for you.
We invite you to learn more about what we do or schedule an appointment.