Relax, we’ve probably heard your question many times
When it comes to medical procedures, it seems everyone is filled with questions. No problem — we’ve heard countless over the many years we’ve been providing imaging services to patients all over Chicagoland. In fact, we’ve compiled this list of the questions most frequently asked:
Q: What is an MRI?
A: MRI stands for Magnetic Resonance Imaging. Through the use of a large magnet, radio waves, and a computer, it is another way to look inside the body without taking an x-ray.
Q: How long have MRIs been in use?
A: The basic principles of MRI have been in use for various purposes since the 1940s. However, not until the 1980s have MRIs been approved commercially by the FDA.
Q: How are MRIs different from X-rays?
A: MRI is so precise, the image taken is often the same as looking directly at the tissue (only in black and white). This clarity can lead to the early detection of disease and helps reduce the number of some diagnostic surgeries. Early detection is very valuable since it can lead to early treatment. Unlike X-rays, there are no known side effects to MRI.
Q: For what types of medical problems is MRI the most useful?
A: MRI is best at seeing soft tissue. Therefore, it is very useful for brain and nervous disorders (stroke, traumatic injuries, fluid in the skull, tumors, multiple sclerosis, and spinal conditions or diseases). It is also beneficial for musculoskeletal problems (ligament, tendon and cartilage injuries) and subtle bone injuries and tumors. Newer applications include imaging of the abdominal and pelvic organs (liver, kidneys, pancreas, uterus and ovaries). MR can also evaluate the heart and blood vessels.
Q: How does MRI work?
A: The body is made up tiny particles called atoms. Protons located inside the atoms continually spin at random. The magnetic field from the MRIs magnet makes the protons line up together and spin in the same direction. Then, a radio frequency signal is beamed into the magnetic field. This signal disrupts the protons, causing them to spin out of alignment. By then turning the signal off, the protons return to their aligned position and release energy. A receiver coil measures the energy released by the disrupted protons, and the time it took the protons to return to their aligned position. This data tells us about the type of tissue where the protons are located and its condition. Now, with this information gathered, a computer can construct an image on a monitor which can be recorded on film or magnetic tape for future reference.
Q: Are there any risks?
A: At this time, there are no known significant side effects. There are, however, some patients who are not eligible for an MR study (for example, if you have a pacemaker).
Q: Will my doctor process the MRI results from start to finish?
A: A radiologist specializing in MRI will first examine the images and help determine a diagnosis. These results will then be shared with your doctor.
Q: How long does the MRI exam take?
A: Exam times vary depending on the area being examined and the complexity of the case, but generally run under one hour.
Q: How soon can I schedule myself for the MRI?
A: In routine MRI scanning, we can normally schedule you within two to four working days. If you are an emergency case (or very urgent), we can schedule you the same day, but we will need your doctor to call us and talk to our staff regarding the particulars of your case for same day approval.
Q: Is an MRI exam painful?
A: No. However, we commonly have to give an injection of a contrast agent (Gadolinium) for the MRI. This is given normally in a vein in your arm.
Q: Can I still have the MRI test if I have…?
A: Dental Work — Yes, but you should remove anything that can removed just prior to the exam.
Limb/Joint Prosthesis – Yes, but images on the area of the metal may be blurred or obscured.
Pacemaker – No.
Hearing Aid – Yes, but you must be able to remove it before the test or it may be ruined.
Implanted Infusion Pump – No.
Pregnant – Probably yes, but case details need to be discussed with your physician and a consent form signed.
Metallic Foreign Bodies – Depends on how large and where they are located, you may need X-rays of the area before a determination can be made to assess you.
Q: Should I bring with me any previous MRIs, CTs, or X-rays of the area for comparison?
Q: How do I prepare for the MRI?
A: Generally, no preparation is necessary. If you are having a scan of your abdomen or pelvis, it is helpful not to eat or drink approximately four hours prior. You generally can stay on any medication you normally take. Wear comfortable clothes. Do not forget you insurance information and do not forget to bring any previous MRI or related exams with you for comparison.
Q: How long before my doctor gets results?
A: Usually within 24-48 hours for non-emergency exams.