MRIs for Multiple Sclerosis:
MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging scans) are a necessary part of diagnosing and monitoring your multiple sclerosis (MS). Researchers and doctors consider them to be one of the biggest breakthroughs in the MS field, as they give a chance to “look inside the brain” in a way that was never possible before. However, the procedure itself can be an unusual and even scary experience for someone who has never had an MRI.
Anticipating and understanding what to expect during an MRI will help you through the scan. The following tips are provided to help make your MRI experience as stress-free as possible.
At Your Doctor’s Office:
Ask your doctor what he will want to see on the MRI: the brain, all or part of the spinal cord, or the entire central nervous system (from top of the head to tailbone). If your doctor wants a scan of the whole thing (which is likely if this is your first MRI or if an exacerbation is suspected), you may be asked if you prefer one or two sessions. Here are some things to consider when deciding:
- Doing the whole thing at one time may take up to two hours.
- If you split it up, the sessions will be shorter each time, but you will have to go to two appointments and will have to receive gadolinium (contrast material) each time.
Before You Leave Home:
- No jewelry: Leave all of your jewelry at home.
- No metal: Some MRI centers allow you to wear you own clothes (instead of a hospital gown) during the scan, as long as there are no metal buttons, snaps or zippers. Keep this in mind when dressing -- wear a t-shirt and elastic waist pants or shorts.
- Dress for heat: Dress lightly or in layers that allow you to undress to a minimum of thickness. It can get very hot in the MRI machine.
- Bring socks: Your feet will be sticking out of the machine.
- Wear an exercise bra: For women, an exercise bra (with no metal) may help you feel more comfortable.
Before the Scan:
- If you have a cough: Consider taking a cough suppressant. You may be reminded not to cough or move during the scan. This invariably (at least in me) brings on the urge to cough.
- Ask for a sedative: If you are claustrophobic, or very scared of the procedure itself, do not be afraid to ask for a sedative.
- Protect your port: If you have a temporary intravenous port for Solu-Medrol administration, request that it not be used for the gadolinium. MRI techs love the convenience of the ports, but the gadolinium is caustic and could collapse the vein, meaning your port will have to be reinserted.
During the Scan:
- Avoid the mirror: There is usually a small mirror positioned above your head, which is tilted so that you can see outside of the machine. I find looking in this mirror extremely disorienting. Keep your eyes closed if you can.
- Practice creative visualization: Picture the most pleasant, relaxing place that you have ever been. Imagine that you are there. Try to remember tiny details about this place. Focus on colors and lighting.
- Breathe steadily and regularly: Count your breaths up to 10, then count backwards. Repeating this is so relaxing that I have actually almost drifted off to sleep during the scan.
After the Scan:
- Drink lots: Drinking plenty of water after your MRI will help flush out the gadolinium.
- Give yourself a treat: Get a massage, have lunch with a friend, or buy a light novel and get lost in the story. You've earned it.
- Tattoos and MRIs: If you have tattoos that you got more than 20 years ago, these might cause discomfort or distort the MRI image. This is caused by metal components in the ink that was used in the past. Discuss this with your doctor or the MRI technician to determine if this might be a problem.