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About Your MRI Exam


Most MRI exams require no preparation. However for some types of scans you may be asked to not eat or drink for 4 hours prior to your test. Your doctor's office will let you know if this is necessary.

You should take any medication you would normally take as directed by your doctor. Please let your technologist know what medications you are currently taking. If you are taking medications to relax you, please have someone with you to drive you home after your MRI.

Note: If you have had recent exams to diagnose this same or a similar problem at another facility, it would be helpful for the radiologist to see those exams. If available, please bring prior studies with you.

MRI ScannerOral Sedation for Claustrophobia

The MRI Department at BIDMC offers the option of oral sedation for patients who have claustrophobia or who feel they will be too uncomfortable to tolerate the exam. Typically, alprazolam (Xanax) is the medication used unless otherwise requested. At the time of scheduling please let us know that your patient would like to take advantage of this program. The Radiology nurse will contact the patient prior to the exam to discuss sedation options, to take a detailed medical history, and to discuss dietary restrictions. They will also confirm that the patient will arrange to be escorted for the entire procedure time. The patient will need to arrive one hour before their scheduled exam time. Upon completion of the exam the nurse will go over written discharge instructions. The patient should not plan to do any work or activity that requires them to be alert for the duration of that day. The patient will be discharged home with their escort.

Before the Exam

When Additional Contrast is Required

MRI provides abundant soft tissue contrast and in many cases allows additional and more precise differences to be recognized, than is possible with standard X-ray examinations, computer tomography (CT) or ultrasound. In about every third MRI examination, a contrast medium is injected into a vein to further improve contrast - and thus allow better differentiation of tissues. The most commonly used MRI contrast agents are a class of chemical compound containing gadolinium as the substance which is decisive for improving contrast. The contrast medium is eliminated via the kidney and is very well tolerated. MRI contrast media can be used safely when allergy or kidney problems have resulted from the use of the X-ray or CT Scan contrast media.

When you arrive for your exam you will be asked to complete a questionnaire about your previous medical history and the reason for the visit. A technologist will review this information with you and answer any questions you might have about the MRI. You will then be escorted to a dressing room to change from street clothes to a hospital gown and allowed to lock your possessions in a locker (if at all possible please leave valuables at home).

After the technologist discusses the exam with you and answers any questions that you might have, you will be escorted into the scan room.

During the Exam

After the technologist discusses the exam with you and answers any questions that you might have, you will be escorted into the scan room. There, you will be positioned, reclined, on a special cushioned table that will move you through the scanner during your exam. A special piece of equipment called a surface coil, which is like a radio antenna, may be placed on the part of your body to be imaged.

The technologist will then leave the room. However, at all times, the technologist can both see and hear you and you will be given a call button in the very unlikely case of an emergency.

MRI sequences will then begin. The exam consists of several different sequences that vary in length and the type of sound they make. The technologist will tell you how long each sequence will be and will remind you to lie as still as possible. Some MRI exams have a few short sequences during which you will be asked to hold your breath. These "breath holds" last from 10 to 20 seconds.

Patients in the scanner will be aware of a "knocking" noise. This is the sound of the magnet working to generate images. Should the noise be bothersome, a technologist can provide you with earplugs.

Patients should expect to be in the scanner between 40 minutes to an hour and one half. After the exam, the technologist will help you off the table and escort you back to the locker area where you can change back into your clothes.

After the Exam

MRi Workstation

Resume normal activities. The radiologist will review your images and a report will be sent to your doctor. Your doctor will go over the results with you and is the only one qualified to do so.


The films will first be viewed by a radiologist, a physician specializing in analyzing these exams. The radiologist will then send a report to your own doctor. You should ask your doctor to discuss the results with you.