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MRI stands for Magnetic Resonance Imaging. This uses magnetism rather than x-rays (radiation) to build up a picture of the inside of your body. It isn’t painful but it is very noisy.
At the scanning department, a radiographer will ask you to undress to your underwear and put on a gown. You’ll need to remove all jewellery. It’s important to make sure you have no metal on you, including anything with a magnetic strip (like a bank card), as this interferes with the scan. This is because the scanner is a huge magnet, so no metal can be in the room.
You’ll be asked to lie on a couch that’s often very hard and not very comfortable. You’ll need to lie very still, because any movement may alter the results of the scan. The couch then moves into what looks like a long cylinder, like a metal tunnel. A lot of people find this difficult and if you don’t like enclosed spaces, it’s important to let the doctor or radiographer know the day before. Many people need to take a tablet to help them relax before they have the scan. It’s very noisy - there’s a banging noise while you’re having the scan. You can listen to music through headphones, so it might be a good idea to take a CD with you. You’ll be able to talk to the radiographer when you’re having the scan, and they’ll remind you to keep still.
The MRI scan lasts about 30-60 minutes, which is a long time to lie still. If you get very uncomfortable, let the radiographer know.
As soon as the scan's over you’ll be able to go home. A specialist doctor will look at the scan and write a report for your doctor. It can take a few days to a couple of weeks for the results to be ready.
Content last reviewed: 1 November 2011
Next planned review: 2013
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