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What to Expect During an MRI Scan?

What to Expect During an MRI Scan? In January my rheumatologist had ordered an MRI of my wrists and fingers because the X-rays did n...

What to Expect During a MRI Scan?
What to Expect During an MRI Scan?

In January my rheumatologist had ordered an MRI of my wrists and fingers because the X-rays did not show up enough data to reach a conclusive diagnosis. My blood tests for RA were negative but the external symptoms on my right hand pointed towards RA. Prior to the MRI, based on the other tests done, I had been diagnosed with Palindromic Rheumatism but the doctor wanted more detailed information to determine the best mode of treatment. And thus MRI came into picture. MRI or Magnetic Resonance Imaging is a kind of scan that makes use of very strong magnetic fields and radio frequency waves to produce detailed images of any part of the body.

I had never undergone an MRI earlier and was a little concerned mainly because I do not like small, closed spaces. I am not claustrophobic per say but the thought of lying inside the MRI scanner tube was not something I was looking forward to. On the day of the MRI, I reached the hospital half an hour prior to the scan. My right hand fingers were slightly swollen on that day and there was pain as well, so whatever it was, it would show up in the scan. I had to sign some forms and then was taken to the scanning room where the scanner was located.

First, I was handed earplugs because it tends to be very loud once the scanning begins. Then I was made to lie down on the MRI bed face down, with my left hand outstretched over my head and my right hand by the side. The left hand was arranged in position with foam cushions and some kind of belts. I was then handed a push-button which I was to use if I felt uncomfortable at any point during the scan. It was like a signal to the technician to stop. Thankfully I did not have to use this during the scan. The technician can see you and talk to you during the MRI. While you cannot see the technician, you can talk to them through the intercom. Once everything is ready, the technician heads to the control room to operate the scanner. You are informed of every step of the scanning process prior to its commencement.

The first step was me being rolled into the MRI tube, head first, upto my waist. Since only my hands were being scanned I was not required to go completely inside the tube. Then the technician announced that they were beginning the scan and mentioned the duration of the scan. It was a series of loud bangs and clanking noises. Once it ended the next set of scans were done, all following the same procedure. Each set of scan had a different rhythm; some were very loud and some like a dull pounding. It took 45 minutes to do the scans for the left hand after which the technician came into the room and adjusted the right hand in position for the scan. The same procedure was repeated and it took another 45 minutes for the right hand scan.

MRI is a painless and safe scanning method. My extremities did become a bit cold but other than that I did not face any problem. I had to lie very still for 45 minutes at a stretch but that was not a problem either as I am not fidgety by nature. The radiographer mentioned at the end of the scan that I lay so still that they did not have to re-do any of the scans. During the scan, I opened my eyes once while inside the MRI tube and found the confined space a bit uncomfortable, so I immediately closed my eyes again and kept them closed throughout the scan.

At the end of the scan, I realised that I had been unnecessarily dreading the MRI. Based on my experience, here are a few pointers for those going for an MRI:
  • If you have implants or any other metal parts inside your body, MRI may not be for you. Please let your doctor know about this in advance.
  • Ensure that there are no metal bits on your clothing and that you are not wearing any jewellery or watch.
  • MRI is totally painless. There may be some temporary discomfort due to lying still in the same position for prolonged duration.
  • It tends to be a little cold in the scanning room. You can request for a blanket to cover yourself.
  • The scanner makes loud noises while it is in operation. The noise is dulled to a certain extent due to the ear plugs though.
  • If you have claustrophobia, talk to your radiographer. They will try to make the experience more comfortable for you.

If you have been advised an MRI and have any concerns, you can always call the hospital and talk to the staff at the Scanning department.

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