Addressing Common Concerns and Questions about MRI Scans

MRI Scans

A Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) machine offers a noninvasive method for medical professionals to examine organs, tissues, and the skeletal system with unparalleled detail. MRI technology produces high-resolution images of the body’s interior by utilizing a magnetic field and computer-generated radio waves, thus aiding in diagnosing various medical conditions. 

If you’re scheduled for an MRI, it’s natural to have questions and concerns. Hence, let’s address some of the most common inquiries about MRI scans, equipping you with the knowledge to feel confident and ready for your upcoming appointment.

How does it work?

An MRI scan operates through a large cylindrical machine that surrounds the patient with a strong magnetic field while emitting pulses of radio waves from a scanner. The machine may vary in appearance, ranging from narrow tunnels to more open designs.

The powerful magnetic field prompts the atoms in the body to align in the same direction. Subsequently, radio waves from the MRI machine displace these atoms from their original positions. 

As the radio waves cease, the atoms return to their initial alignment, emitting radio signals captured by a computer. These signals are then translated into an image of the targeted body part displayed on a viewing monitor.

Compared to computed tomography (CT), MRI is preferred for examining organs or soft tissue due to its superior ability to differentiate between different types of soft tissues and discern normal from abnormal soft tissues. Moreover, an MRI does not employ ionizing radiation, eliminating the risk of radiation exposure during the procedure.

Advancements in MRI technology have led to the development of specialized procedures like magnetic resonance angiography (MRA), which evaluates blood flow through arteries and detects abnormalities such as aneurysms and vascular malformations. 

Additionally, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) of the brain pinpoints specific brain functions, such as speech or memory, by having patients perform tasks like reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. This precise localization of functional brain centers aids doctors in planning treatments for brain disorders.

How much does it cost?

The cost of an MRI procedure varies depending on several factors, including the area of the body being scanned and the specific facility where the MRI is performed. Here are the average costs for MRI procedures in different areas:

  • Bone: $410 – $2,100
  • Brain: $1,600 – $8,400
  • Cervical spine: $1,400 – $7,600
  • Chest: $500 – $7,900
  • Neck: $500 – $11,800
  • Pelvic: $500 – $7,900

These costs are approximate and can fluctuate based on the complexity of the procedure, any additional services required, and whether contrast material is used. It’s crucial to consult with your healthcare provider and insurance company to understand your coverage and any potential out-of-pocket expenses.

One question arises, though: does Medicare cover MRI? Medicare covers MRI scans when they’re needed to diagnose a health issue. Medicare Part A pays for the MRI if you’re in the hospital. If it’s done outside the hospital, Medicare Part B covers it. Medicare Advantage plans also offer this coverage, but details may vary.

How to prepare for an MRI procedure

Preparing for an MRI procedure involves a few essential steps to ensure a smooth and successful experience. Here’s how:

  • Eating, Drinking, and Medications: For most MRI exams, you can eat, drink, and take medications as usual. However, certain specialty MRI exams may require specific restrictions. 
  • Clothing and Personal Belongings: You must remove all clothing, including underwear, and store all personal belongings. Take out any piercings and leave jewelry and valuables at home.
  • During the Procedure: MRI imaging occurs inside a large, tube-like structure that’s open at both ends. It’s crucial to remain perfectly still for clear images. Earplugs are provided due to the loud noise of the MRI machine.
  • Allergies: Some MRI exams involve IV contrast. If you’ve had an allergic reaction to MRI contrast before, ask your doctor for a prescription. You’ll likely need to take this medication by mouth 24, 12, and two hours before the exam.
  • Anti-Anxiety Medication: If you experience claustrophobia and need anti-anxiety medication, speak with your doctor for a prescription. Bring the prescription with you on the day of your appointment, and arrange for someone to drive you home afterward.
  • Metal in the Body: Inform your doctor beforehand if you have any metal. Details about the type and location of the metal are needed to determine your eligibility for MRI. Failure to disclose metal in your body may delay, reschedule, or cancel your study upon arrival.
  • Additional Preparations: Your healthcare provider may recommend other preparations depending on your medical condition.

How long does an MRI scan last?

The duration of an MRI scan can vary, typically between 15 to 90 minutes. However, this timeframe may fluctuate depending on the complexity of the procedure and the specific area being scanned. Lying still inside the MRI machine for an extended period may initially seem challenging, but it’s essential for obtaining precise and accurate images.

Is it Safe?

Another concern is the safety of MRI scans, particularly regarding potential radiation exposure. Unlike X-rays or CT scans, which use ionizing radiation, MRI scans rely on magnetic fields and radio waves, posing no known health risks. Patients with certain metal implants or devices may need precautions, but MRI scans are safe for most individuals.

Moreover, you won’t feel pain during an MRI exam, and the electromagnetic fields don’t cause tissue damage. However, the MRI machine can be noisy, producing tapping or knocking sounds. Earplugs are given to prevent any discomfort from these noises.

Final Takeaway

If you have any upcoming MRI scans scheduled or are considering one, remember that being informed and prepared can significantly ease any concerns. Don’t hesitate to contact your healthcare provider or imaging facility to ask questions or address any worries about the procedure.