MRIs: Frequently Asked Questions

Have questions about an upcoming MRI? We’ve answered the most frequently asked questions about MRI procedures including preparation, insurance, risk, and more. 

Q: What is an MRI and what information can we gather from the test?

A: MRI stands for Magnetic Resonance Imaging. The scanner uses a combination of a magnetic field and radiofrequencies to produce a 3D image. MRIs are a non-invasive way to examine soft tissues of the body, such as the brain, breast, spinal canal, and joints.

Q: Why would someone need an MRI?

A: There are many reasons a patient might need an MRI. Some of the most common reasons to have this test performed include possible tumors or evaluating multiple sclerosis and sports injuries.

Q: Is there radiation in an MRI?

A: No. MRI images are not made with any form of radiation.

Q: How should a patient prepare for their MRI?

A: Patients should dress with no jewelry or metal (bobby pins, metal in clothing, etc.). If they have certain surgical implants (such as heart valves or aneurysm clips) they need to bring an implant card (provided by the surgeon at the time of the surgery) so we can clear them for MRI. Since MRI scanners are essentially large, tube-like magnets, metal from jewelry or clothing can become dangerous. Braces and fillings are fine for the MRI. Sometimes removable dental work (such as partials) must be taken out. Piercings and jewelry must always be removed. An MRI safety screening questionnaire is given to patients prior to their MRI scan.

Q: Do you need an X-ray before an MRI?

A: If there is history of working around high speed machinery or metal grinding which could cause metal in the eyes, we may need an x-ray to make sure the patient is safe to go into the magnet.

Q: Can you have an MRI while pregnant?

A: In general, it’s something we avoid, especially during the first trimester. If there is no other imaging option, the MRI is considered. Studies show that there is relatively low risk associated with MRIs and pregnancy. The advantage of MRI scanning during pregnancy is there is no radiation, safety is our top priority.

Q: What will the MRI process be like?

A: The scanning procedure typically takes anywhere from 15-45 minutes. There is no pain involved in the scan. An IV will be started if the test is ordered with contrast. Contrast is when we inject a patient with a special dye that will help create clearer images of internal body structures. This procedure is loud; however, we provide hearing protection. For those who have claustrophobia, a patient can generally obtain an oral sedative prescribed by their ordering provider before the scan. Those who take a sedative would require a driver to bring them to and from their appointment.

Q: Why is the MRI so noisy?

A: The sounds themselves don’t signify anything. The noise is a byproduct of the way the scanner produces its images.

Q: Why do MRIs take so long?

A: MRI procedures can take longer than others because we take hundreds of images. MRIs simply require more time than other procedures, since we’re not using radiation.

Q: Do I need to be referred for an MRI?

A: All MRIs require a doctor’s order and authorization from most insurance companies.

Q: What are some common mistakes people make before and during an MRI?

A: A common mistake is showing up late. Patients must always arrive 30 minutes prior to their appointment time to allow for paperwork and screening. We have a tight schedule, so if a patient is late to their appointment, they could miss their slot and must be rescheduled. Another common mistake is wearing too much jewelry, not removing body piercings that require special tools, or having a hairstyle that has un-removable metal in it. Patients have had to reschedule their appointments for such reasons.

Q: Are MRIs covered by my insurance?

A: Our charge to insurance companies for most MRIs average around $2000; your insurance plan will determine if there is any cost owed out of pocket and what your insurance will pay for. We are one of the lower cost options in Tidewater Virginia for MRI testing. Click here for a more specific breakdown of our imaging pricing.

Q: Is there any risk involved with MRI scans?

A: As long as the patient is carefully pre-screened and follows instructions, there is no danger involved with an MRI or any after effects post-scan.

Q: When can you NOT have an MRI performed?

A: If you have a pacemaker or certain other implanted medical devices, or if you have had certain surgeries in the past six weeks you should not have an MRI. The technologist will help to determine if any of these conditions apply to you.

Q: What is the weight limit?

A: For both our Williamsburg and Newport News locations, the weight limit is 500 lbs.

Q: What is a wide-bore MRI?

A: Wide-bore MRIs are high-field MRI scanners that are more open than traditional high-field scanners. These scanners are open on both ends and have a wider tunnel. Since they are less enclosed, they reduce patient claustrophobia, can make it easier for patients with disabilities to maneuver, and can accommodate larger patients.

Matthew Doherty

About Matthew T. Doherty, MD

Matthew T. Doherty, MD, is a fellowship trained, board certified radiologist in Hampton Roads, VA at the TPMG Imaging and Breast Centers in Newport News and Williamsburg. As a result of nearly a decade of training as a radiologist, Dr. Doherty has extensive experience in the interpretation of imaging studies to include ultrasound, MRI, CT, and mammography.

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