The magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan is one of the most important medical machines in history. It allows doctors to see the difference between healthy and damaged tissue in the body more clearly than ever before. It can also show detail in sensitive areas, such as the brain, spinal cord, internal organs, and joints.
Most people know that MRI machines are essentially large magnets that scan your body. But how exactly do MRI parts work together to produce these detailed images? Here is the process of getting an MRI scan to understand how this incredible machine works:
Before Getting an MRI Scan
Before any kind of medical testing or procedure, there are usually preparatory steps that are observed by patients. While those going through an MRI can usually eat, drink, and take their medications as prescribed on the day of the scan itself, some doctors will advise their patients not to eat or drink anything four hours prior. Others may instruct you to drink plenty of water right before the scan. This is all dependent on the area of your body being examined.
Nurses and medical staff will ask you to fill up a form with details on your health and medical history. Be sure to accomplish this accurately, as it will ensure that the scan can be done safely. You must also remove any metal accessories from your body, such as belts, watches, jewelry, dentures, and hearing aids. Hospital gowns are typically worn to ensure that no piece of clothing with metal will enter the MRI.
Sedatives are sometimes used for anxious or claustrophobic patients to aid in relaxation, while babies and children are given a general anesthetic to ensure that there is no movement during the scanning process. Contrast dyes may also be given to patients for tissues and blood vessels to show up in better detail. While it has a few side effects, like nausea and headaches, these usually pass quickly enough.
During the MRI Scan
When it’s time for the scan, the patient lies on a motorized bed that moves into the MRI. A radiographer operates the machine using a computer in a separate room to avoid the scanner’s strong magnetic field. Your radiologist will be able to see you through a monitor, and you can communicate with each other via the intercom.
When the scan starts, you should expect it to make loud tapping sounds, which is the electric current running through the coils that are being turned on and off. When these machines are in need of maintenance, it is usually MRI coil repairs that are required.
Patients will be given earplugs to block out the noise or given headphones for listening to music. Single scans may range from seconds to a few minutes, some of which you’ll be required to hold your breath for.
Keeping completely still is essential for clear imaging, so be sure to follow your radiographer’s instructions. The whole procedure may take up to 90 minutes to complete.
After the MRI Scan
When the scan is done, you can leave the hospital or facility and resume your normal activities. Those who have taken sedatives should be brought home by relatives or trusted companions and should avoid heavy lifting and alcohol consumption for at least 24 hours.
Your scans will be studied and discussed by radiologists and other specialists, so you may get results after a bit of waiting, usually in about a week or two. Your physician who arranged the scan will discuss these results with you to shed light and clarify the findings.
Getting an MRI scan is much like having a much longer X-ray done—with an added multitude of benefits. Since MRI scans can show damage in tissues with such clear detail, it affords medical practitioners the ability to diagnose as early as possible, making treatment and recovery more likely with little to no known side effects. By understanding how it works and what to expect, patients will learn to appreciate its role in providing better information on certain conditions and the right treatments.
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