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What happens when you have an MRI scan?

Having an MRI scan for the first time can, understandably, be daunting. Queen Square carries out thousands of MRI scans each year – the majority being brain scans – and supporting patients through every stage of the process is very important to us.

We’ve put together this guide to address some key points and help direct you to other useful sections of our website. Remember, our specialist team is always happy to answer any questions you have.

What is an MRI scan?

MRI stands for ‘Magnetic Resonance Imaging’ and uses radio waves and a strong magnetic field to create highly detailed images of inside the human body. Whereas X-ray based tests are very good at looking at bone, MRI is particularly useful for capturing very accurate images of any tissue within the body that contains lots of water molecules, including muscle, nerves and any other ‘soft tissues’.

Are MRI scans safe?

Yes. Apart from being stronger, the magnetic fields and radio waves used in MRI scans are no different to the ones that surround us in day-to-day life. As with all types of medical scans, however, there are some important safety measures that need to be taken – such as removing jewellery, the same as you’d do before an X-ray – but you’ll be given a safety checklist to complete and your radiographer will go through this with you before your scan.

What happens during an MRI scan?

As mentioned above, when you arrive for your scan, you’ll be given a checklist to complete. This will ensure your radiographer is fully informed of any relevant medical history (such as whether you have a pacemaker fitted), and that all necessary safety measures are in place (such as removing your jewellery). You can find more information on this over on our Patient Journey page.

Your radiographer will talk to you about the process before the scan starts. Depending on which area of the body is being scanned, you may be asked to change into a gown (this isn’t generally required for brain scans), before your radiographer helps you get into position on the scanner table and ensure you’re comfortable.

MRI scans last anywhere from 15-90 minutes – your radiographer will be able to advise on this before yours starts. You won’t feel anything while the scan is happening but MRI scanners are noisy – this is completely normal and just means the scanner is working as it’s meant to and you’ll be given ear guards to wear. It’s important to keep as still as possible during the scan, however you’ll be provided with an emergency buzzer which you can press at any time if you need to.

In some circumstances, a contrast dye injection is required partway through the scan. This is very routine and nothing to worry about, as our article – MRI contrast: Is there a need to worry? – explains.

Preparing for your scan

On the day of your scan, you can eat and drink as normal. As you’ll be asked to remove jewellery, it’s a good idea not to wear anything to the clinic that you don’t feel comfortable keeping in the lockers we provide.

MRI scans are very safe and we carry out multiple scans every day – but we understand that some people can feel anxious beforehand. Reading up on what to expect can really help in terms of feeling calm, along with asking a friend or partner to accompany you to the clinic if you like.

Queen Square also has an especially wide MRI scanner which can be helpful for people who have claustrophobia. Our article – MRI scans and claustrophobia: Dispelling myths and managing anxiety – contains lots of useful points.

If you would like to discuss an MRI appointment, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with our friendly team at the Queen Square Imaging Centre on 020 7833 2513. Alternatively you can make an enquiry online.