An MRI, magnetic resonance imaging, is a special type of diagnostic scan that creates a 3-dimensional image of internal body parts. This image is clearer than that of CT scans or x-rays, making them more reliable when it comes to diagnosing complex conditions. In order to pull off something this intricate, MRI scans are also known for taking a longer time than other scans. While the average length is between 15 and 90 minutes, a range of factors will impact how long your MRI lasts. Read on to learn about what to expect during an MRI.
How an MRI Works
First, it is important to understand how an MRI works to understand why it may take a long time. MRIs rely on a combination of strong magnetic fields and radio waves to align the protons in your body. The machine sends short bursts of radio waves through your body, knocking protons out of alignment. Between the pulses of these radio waves, the protons realign, sending out signals that the MRI machine captures to render an image.
This process happens over and over again, with each time creating a cross-sectional image of one slice of your body. All of these slices are then reconfigured by a computer to create a comprehensive, 3-dimensional picture of the scanned body part.
Factors to Consider
MRIs can be done in many different ways, all of which can impact how long the procedure takes. Some of these factors that affect duration include:
- The number of images: More images may be necessary for a more detailed analysis, which will require the scan to last longer.
- The part of the body being scanned: Generally speaking, the larger the area of your body that needs to be scanned, the longer it will take to create a full picture.
- Contrast dyes: Some MRIs require contrast dye to be administered through an IV in order to add clarity to images of small structures in the body. This can add an extra 15 to 30 minutes to the process of an MRI.
- Sedation: If someone is unable to stay still during an MRI, like a small child, or they experience severe claustrophobia, they may be sedated for the procedure. The administering of this sedative and time for it to set in can impact the length of the scan, as well as add time while the sedative wears off.
What to Expect During an MRI
When you arrive for your scan, you will likely begin by verifying simple information like your medical history. They’ll also check you for easy-to-forget items that must be removed before the MRI and confirm you don’t have any metal implants or pacemakers that could prevent you from safely using the MRI machine.
Once you are ready, you will need to remove all metal from your body, including clothing. This may mean you change into a hospital gown, as well as removing any piercings, shoes, and hair ties with metal in them. This is also when contrast dye would be given if it’s being used.
During the MRI, you will lie on a bed that sits inside a large, cylindrical MRI scanner- essentially a large metal tube. There will be a speaker so that you can communicate with the person administering the scan, who will be in another room. They will tell you when they are about to capture an image so that you can be still and know to expect loud noises.
Each individual scan may take between seconds and a few minutes, and you may be asked to hold your breath for shorter scans. Immediately after the procedure, you will be able to leave and drive yourself, as long as you did not use a sedative.
Some example total durations may include:
- Knee MRI: 30 to 60 minutes
- Shoulder MRI: 15 to 45 minutes
- Brain or head MRI: 30 to 60 minutes
- Spine MRI: 30 to 60 minutes
- Hip MRI: 45 minutes
- Pelvic MRI: 30 to 60 minutes
The Power of MRIs
If you are experiencing any pain or other symptoms, a doctor will not use MRIs as the first method of diagnosis. However, they can be useful in diagnosing conditions that do not meet other criteria or in ruling out serious conditions. With this information, a treatment plan can be built that is attuned to your actual condition.
At AICA College Park, our onsite diagnostic imaging allow us to request, perform, and analyze MRI scans easily, without referrals and multiple appointments. Our specialists can then use this information to create personalized treatment plans easily and within a single team focused on your recovery. Contact us today with any questions about what an MRI may look like in your case.