What to expect when having an MRI scan

If your doctor has informed you that you need an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan, you might be wondering how it works and what to expect.

An MRI uses powerful magnetic fields and radio frequency to capture highly detailed images of organs, soft tissue, bone and other internal body structures. They are most commonly used to find abnormalities of the brain, spine, heart and breasts and have become vital in early diagnoses of conditions or diseases.

MRIs are non-invasive and painless, but some patients have concerns about noise level, feelings of claustrophobia and how long the scan will take.

The good news is that modern MRI scanners have come a long way in patient comfort. Most are no longer totally enclosed, which helps greatly with feelings of claustrophobia. The magnetic strength and accuracy have improved over the years as well.

If you need an MRI, it’s a good idea to research which type suits you best. Not all machines are the same when it comes to comfort and the accuracy of the scan.

A new MRI available at Baptist Beaches (called the GE Signa Voyager), for example, has one of the largest openings available, which helps reduce feelings of claustrophobia and can accommodate patients of all sizes.

Most MRIs have an opening of 60 centimeters while this new MRI has an opening of 70 centimeters — 25 percent larger.

Noise level is a patient concern as well. Finding an MRI with noise reduction technology goes a long way in comfort as does having a sound system so patients can listen to their favorite music during the scan.

Radiologists who are specially trained in specific areas of the body (such as breast imaging, cardiovascular or gastrointestinal) read the scans at the hospital to provide accurate diagnoses. Because the images don’t need to be sent to radiologists off site, results can be available as early as the day of the scan. Your doctor will explain the results to you at a follow-up appointment.

When having an MRI, the technician will help make sure you are comfortable as possible. Some MRI scanners require that you remain motionless during the scan and hold your breath for a few seconds. More advanced MRIs don’t require that, which makes the experience more comfortable.

Jay Jones, MD, is chair of Radiology at Baptist Beaches, 1350 13th Avenue South, Jacksonville Beach, FL 32250. For more information about MRIs at Baptist Beaches, call 904.202.2222.

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