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How long does an MRI take?

Most MRI exams take 40 minutes or less. A number of special exams require more imaging time and are scheduled in 60 to 90 minute slots.

Each MRI exam is scheduled as a separate appointment and if you are having multiple studies the same day, please expect 40 to 60 minutes per exam. Some exams can not be done the same day and must be scheduled separately.

Do I need to do anything before my MRI?

Some exams require a preparation period prior to the actual scan. You will be asked to arrive 45-60 minutes prior to the scan time to complete the preparation and paperwork these special exams require.

If you have questions about any preparation required for your MRI exam please contact the MRI department and speak with an MR Technologist.

What should I wear?

We ask all patients to change into a hospital gown and pants for the MRI exam. We recommend that patients leave jewelry at home when possible and to use minimal makeup or hair gels. Many clothing fabrics can contain metallic fibers that can degrade the image quality. Makeup and some hair products may also contain metallic particles that can affect the images. We have patient lockers at each MRI location to store your personal items during the exam.

I have metal in my body from prior surgery. Can I have an MRI?

Most people who have metal in their body after surgery can have an MRI. For example, patients with hip or knee replacements can have an MRI exam a few weeks after surgery. Other implanted devices require less time after surgery. Certain devices, however, can never go into the MRI machine. Heart pacemakers or defibrillators, some implanted pumps and nerve stimulators cannot go in the MRI scanner. Some brain aneurysm clips (particularly older ones) cannot go into the scanner. If you have had any prior surgery, you must let the technologist know prior to the scan. Also, if there is any chance there may be metal in any part of your body from a prior injury or from grinding metal, please inform the technologist prior to the scan. Some simple screening x-rays prior to the MRI may be required.

Will there be special preparation for my exam? Can I eat or drink before/after my test?

All MRI's require that you not eat or drink for 4 hours prior to your exam. (It is okay to have a sip of water with your medications). This is to eliminate the possibility of reflux and aspiration while you are lying flat and to decrease the likelihood that the digestive process will interfere with the images. If you are diabetic, it is okay to eat/drink lightly to keep your blood sugar in your comfort range. All diabetics should contact their providers to verify special needs they may have.

How Does MRI Work?

MRI utilizes the physical properties of magnetic fields, radio waves and computers to generate images of the tissues within the body. MRI signals from the body are generated using a safe magnetic field in combination with radio waves of a specific frequency. The MRI signals are detected and converted to a form which the computer can understand. The computer processes the MRI signals from the body to form the MR images.

What does the patient experience when being imaged with MR?

The MRI procedure will typically last anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes, depending on the type of information required by the physician. To conduct the MR study, a technologist will assist the patient onto a padded, moveable scanning table. The table and patient are positioned inside the opening of the MRI scanner. The patient is easily observed by the technologist throughout the study. The patient is only required to remain as still as possible during the exam. During the scan, the patient experiences nothing unusual. A variety of sounds, such as humming and thumping noises, will be heard as the scan progresses. This is normal, and a sign that the exam is proceeding as required. After the exam, the patient may resume all normal activities.

Why is the MRI scanner so loud?

The noise is generated when electric current is passed through a series of coils in the scanner. The rapid pulsing of current in the high magnetic field causes these coils to "resonate" or "sing" and also creates torque on the coils that moves them in their housing. The loud noise associated with the scanner is a combination of these effects. Each scan will have a distinctive sound and you may notice it change from scan to scan. You will be provided with hearing protection during the scan.

I have claustrophobia and get very anxious in tight places. Can I get medication to calm me down?

The MRI Department offers the option of oral sedation for those patients who experience claustrophobia or anxiety. Please discuss this with your provider before he/she orders your exam. If you are scheduling your own exam, please tell the scheduler that you require oral sedation.

Typically the medication used is Alprazolam (Xanax) or Lorazepam (Ativan). Patients scheduled for oral sedation will receive a screening call from the Radiology NP or RN prior to the appointment. They will take a detailed medical history, discuss any special needs or restrictions and discuss medication options. To receive medication, you will be required to bring an escort who will remain here with you and drive you home. You will be given written discharge instructions which will be reviewed with you.

Please do not plan to do any activity, including work, which requires you to be alert, for the rest of the day.

I cannot lie still for any length of time due to pain or uncontrollable movements. Can I be put to sleep?

Yes, anesthesia in the form of IV sedation or general can be arranged. Please discuss this with your ordering provider who will need to order anesthesia when he/she orders your MRI. Please also note that we can only offer anesthesia for a limited number of patients per week, so these appointments may take longer to arrange.

Does this test require an injection of contrast or dye?

Many MR exams can be performed without contrast. However, intravenous contrast can help us better distinguish between normal tissues and abnormal tissues. The contrast can also help us to assess the function of certain organs. The use of intravenous and/or oral contrast is determined by the radiologist based on the history or indications provided by the ordering physician.

Is the contrast ("dye") safe?

The contrast used in MRI is gadolinium-based contrast media that has been approved by the FDA. This contrast is not the same as that used in CT scans ("Cat scan"). Gadolinium is an element that has useful magnetic characteristics that allow it to be used for MRI imaging. A small amount will be injected into your bloodstream, usually through a vein in your arm or hand, and a series of images will be taken after the injection. These images will be compared to images done prior to the injection. Most patients can receive gadolinium based contrast without incident. However if you have a history of kidney disease, diabetes, high blood pressure or gout, we may need to do a specific blood test prior to the exam to make sure your kidneys are functioning well enough to tolerate the injection.

Why am I getting an injection if my doctor ordered it without contrast?

A radiologist reviews each MR exam scheduled to make sure the correct exam is performed and to tailor the study based on the indications provided by the ordering physician. The radiologist may decide to add contrast to an exam that was ordered without contrast in order to get best possible study for the patient.

The contrast that I am asked to drink makes me nauseous, can I receive medication to help with this?

Some MRI protocols require you to drink liquid contrast or to be injected with medication which may make you nauseous. This usually passes in a few minutes and rarely results in vomiting. If you have a general problem with nausea please speak to your physician before coming to your appointment. He/she can prescribe anti-nausea medication such as "Zofran" which can be taken prior to your exam and may help eliminate those symptoms.

Can you scan my whole body while I'm in there?

No. This is one way that an MRI differs from some other scans. With the MRI scanner, we can image just about any part of the body; however, each scan is limited to a specific body part or area. An MRI is very detailed as each area we scan takes from 30-90 minutes.

When will my results be ready?

A Radiologist will read your MRI usually within 24 hours or less and the results will be available to your ordering physician shortly after. A report will be sent to your doctor who is the only one qualified to go over the results with you. You may also be able to access the report through PatientSite, the online patient medical record system, if you have created your account.

Where do I go for my MRI?

We have four scanning locations at BIDMC. Please don't hesitate to call us if you are not sure where to go for your exam. The West Campus MRI is staffed 24hrs a day.

East Campus, 3rd Floor of Rabb building.
Research scanning and some outpatient scanning takes place on the east campus on the third floor of the Rabb building. (link to map).
Hours: Monday through Friday 8am to 5pm
Reception: 617-667-8125
Technologist: 617-667-2247

Shapiro Outpatient Center, 4th Floor.
We have two scanners on the fourth floor of the Shapiro building for outpatient scanning, including most Breast MR exams. (link to map)
Hours: Monday through Friday 7am to 11pm, Saturday and Sunday 7am to 7pm
Reception: 617-667-9413
Technologist: 617-667-7240

Rosenberg Building, Basement Phone
The main department is located in the basement of the Rosenberg Building on 1 Deaconess Road. 617 754 2084
Hours: Monday through Friday 7am to 11pm, Saturday and Sunday 7am to 7pm
Reception: 617-754-2090
Technologist: 617-754-2084

Deaconess Building, 1st Floor
The second location is on the first floor of the Deaconess building on Pilgrim Road-please enter through the Farr building and follow the signs to the MRI suite. You can also ask at the reception desk at any entrance. Hours: Monday through Friday 7am to 7pm
Reception: 617-754-2117
Technologist: 617-632-7030