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The Magnetic Resonance Test (MRI) Procedure

Updated on February 11, 2013

What is an MRI? Who Needs One?

The MRI, which stands for Magnetic Resonance Imaging, is commonly used in producing medical images.

Many people need this test. Most commonly, it's used for taking photographs and measurements of the brain. This can include young children, who can be intimidated by the procedure.

Others who may need an MRI are people with bad backs. Each section - like the lower back, upper back, neck area, etc. take about fifteen minutes to accurately measure and document.

The MRI Procedure Described

You will be asked to remove all metal items. Basically, strip down to your underwear then dress in a cloth gown garment. You will be told to relax and may close your eyes, if you wish. The legs may be drawn up slightly, and a triangular cushion placed underneath.

Most MRIs take about 20 minutes to complete. During this time, the patient wears headphones. A series of buzzing and beeping noises are heard to help create the magnetic waves in the body in order to measure the inside part of the spine, brain or other area(s) being magnetically imaged.

Those who are sensitive may wear rubber ear plugs or cotton balls to help deaden the vibrating noises. This is not torture, nor a techno party. These buzzing vibrations help create sound waves to better measure what is going on within the body.

Sounds may be humorous, if not invasive. There are jackhammer noises, donkey gait type sounds, and many more. You Tube has a recording of sounds you may hear during your MRI.

The Inner Workings of the Brain

The result of the MRI can be quite impressive, especially when it's animated.
The result of the MRI can be quite impressive, especially when it's animated. | Source

Getting Through the Procedure

There is an Open MRI machine, which lessens the fear and panic reaction to many patients. These tend to be slightly larger and more modern, with the patient feeling less enclosed. If this is not available, there is no alternative but to try to overcome it.

There are also MRI machines in portable trailers, going from town to town. Some are narrower (about 55 cms wide) and some are wider (70 cms). Not all are the same.

An Open MRI Machine

The Open MRI machine is superior because it lessens the chance of a panic attack in a narrow enclosure.  A friend may stand nearby as a source of support.
The Open MRI machine is superior because it lessens the chance of a panic attack in a narrow enclosure. A friend may stand nearby as a source of support. | Source

Claustrophobic Patients

Many people don't like being rolled into a small tube. Playing "dead" is a little strange. Not all people are claustrophobic, so reactions will vary.

The body is relaxed, there is room to lie somewhat comfortably, arms relaxed to the side. The patient's arms are strapped to the side and given a plastic box the size of a pack of cigarettes as a panic button. Many prefer to keep their eyes closed during the procedure and play mental games to help stay focused and calm.

Headphones are placed on the head. Those who want to prepare for the strange series of noises can get used to them before entering the tube. The sounds are somewhat loud, but that is for medical purposes. Getting familiar with them before hand tends to help the patient know what to expect. The sounds may be played out in a different series.

Contact with the Outside

For those who get extremely upset, a partner can sit with them, touching their arm or shoulder from outside the tube. Many find this calming, while others find this distracting. Some other patients place a washcloth over their eyes to not be tempted to see how close the top of the tube is to their head.

Stress is not good for the test. The more relaxed the patient lies, the faster and easier the magnetic imaging will take. Those who tend to panic in small places must find a way to get through it. There are those who are larger - fatter if you will - may feel even more restricted. Actually, it seems to be adequate for those who are not abnormally obese.

What do claustrophobic patients do?

Some simply refuse, but then the doctor cannot treat the problem. The MRI provides an important function - much like the ultrasound test.

Some patients choose to medicate. They take a mild sedative the day of and even the day before, if they are too worked up about the procedure.

Fun Things to do in the MRI Tube :D

If you are learning a foreign language, try playing word games with each of the letters of the alphabet. For example in Croatian, there are seven cases. The words change according to their placement in a sentence.

Use your own language to think of boys names from A to Z, girls names from A to Z, cities from A to Z and so on.

One patient made a joke of all the funny noises going through her head. The knock knock was "you can't come in now, I'm having an MRI". The jackhammer sound was "oh good, they're preparing a new sidewalk outside my house", etc.

Some medical offices provide a tiny headphone to wear during the procedure so you can listen to music while they take magnetic images of your innards.

Another suggestion is to wad lump of cotton in your ears to lessen the intensity of the sound. You will still hear it but it may not seem quite so intrusive.

Having cool breaths of air and calmness really helps it go more smoothly and comfortably. This may just be one of those times to take a mild sedative. Those who have experienced natural childbirth know that deep breathing is a great relaxation tool but in the MRI tube it's neither feasible nor recommended.

Good luck and I look forward to hearing your comments.

Designed for Children

A child friendly MRI chamber - very high class and very rare!  The aquarium helps the child to relax.
A child friendly MRI chamber - very high class and very rare! The aquarium helps the child to relax. | Source


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    • profile image

      Lisa 3 years ago

      MRI and Ultrasound are both in the medical imaging field, but with very different functions. You have written an information article to explain what is MRI, who to use MRI, how to prepare for a MRI scan. Such a nice article! Considering MRI technician and ultrasound technician are both working in the medical imaging field, I wrote an article to compare these two healthcare occupations, including duties, education requirements, salary and so on. It may be worth your time to read my new article here

      Any good feedback is very welcome. Thank you!

    • EuroCafeAuLait profile image

      Anastasia Kingsley 5 years ago from Croatia, Europe

      @JayeWisdom, thanks for stopping by and sharing your suggestions. The counting off in seconds seems like a good way to keep occupied during the procedure. Best to you, ECAL

      @GoodLady, you made a good point - preparation is key. Really enjoy your perspective. Thanks for reading and commenting, best regards, ECAL

    • GoodLady profile image

      Penelope Hart 5 years ago from Rome, Italy

      Yes, it's all about dealing with the stress of it. Best thing to do is meditate or pray, certainly transcend. Time passes. The discomfort does ware off. But certainly your Hub is very helpful for people who want to prepare for it. It's important to prepare for it. Thank you.

    • JayeWisdom profile image

      Jaye Denman 5 years ago from Deep South, USA

      My hospital does not use headphones when I have an MRI. I have mild-to-moderate claustrophobia, and being inside the cylinder bothers me. What helps most is to ask for a folded cloth to be placed over my eyes. (Not seeing the inside of the cylinder helps.) Then I do deep breathing to stay calm. Also, when the MRI tech states how many minutes the next series will take (all of which make different loud noises), I slowly count the minutes off in seconds. That keeps me occupied and makes the end of the test seem closer.