An MRI scan is the most important test for diagnosing and monitoring multiple sclerosis (MS), as well as many other neurological diseases and disorders. The test does not hurt, but it can be a strange experience. Knowing what to expect during an MRI will help make the experience itself less stressful. It is important that you be as comfortable as possible, and there are a number of tips to help you do this.
- You will be asked to complete a questionnaire, which asks about any metal which you might have in your body, including screws, cochlear implants, artificial joints, etc.
- You will be asked to take off anything metal, which includes any jewelry and bras, which usually have metal clasps at the back.
- You may be allowed to leave your clothes (if there are no metal zippers, snaps or buttons) on or be asked to change into a hospital gown.
- An IV port may be inserted at this point for gadolinium (contrast material) administration later.
- If you are claustrophobic, or very scared of the procedure itself, do not be afraid to ask for a sedative.
- You will probably be given earplugs.
The Scanning Room
- You will be taken into the MRI room and asked to lay on the table, which is fairly narrow and hard and slides out from the machine. Some centers allow a friend to stay with you.
- If you are cold, ask for a blanket (which you will probably want to remove later as it gets very hot in the machine).
- If your doctor has ordered a scan of your brain at this point, cushioned pads will be positioned on either side of your head to keep it still. A “surface coil” which resembles a plastic cage will be fit around your head. This will be removed for the scan of your spine.
- Once you are comfortable, the technician will leave the room, but will constantly communicate with you. The technician will slide the table into the machine before he leaves the room.
The Scanning Begins
- The technician will tell you how long each sequence will last. For instance, he might start by saying, “This part should take about 2 minutes.” Usually, they last between 20 seconds and 3 minutes.
- The machine itself makes a very loud banging or clanging sound for the duration of that sequence. You may also experience some vibration. After that sequence, there will be a short break of 5 or 10 seconds, and then the technician will tell you how long the next sequence will last.
- A little over halfway through the procedure, the gadolinium (if it is being used) will be injected, either with a syringe or into the IV port that has been installed for this purpose. It usually feels a little cold and may sting slightly, but only for a short time.