What to expect from an MRI scan

04 November 2019

What is an MRI scan?

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a type of scan that uses a powerful magnet and radiofrequency waves to produce detailed images of any part of the body.

What is an MRI scan used for?

It can help to find out what is causing your issue and help your doctor to find the best treatment.

It provides a more detailed picture of your body than an ordinary X-ray. It is particularly good at identifying problems in the spine, brain and joints.

It is also helpful when looking at other parts of the body often when other types of imaging have not given a full picture. Unlike X-rays and CT (Computer Tomography), an MRI scan does not use ionising radiation.

Noises during scan

The MRI is quite noisy. When the scanner is working it makes a loud banging noise. It is a bit like hearing roadworks or travelling on the underground. We will give you headphones and earplugs to wear to reduce the noise.

Are there any risks?

MRI scan is a very safe procedure for most patients. However, patients with pacemakers and certain types of surgical implants for example cochlear implants cannot be scanned. You may be excluded from having an MRI scan during pregnancy.

You will be asked to complete and sign a safety questionnaire for yourself in order to make sure it is safe for you to go into the MRI room.

Preparing for an MRI scan

Before the day of the scan

An MRI scan is routinely done as an outpatient procedure. Most MRI scans need no special preparation. However, if you are having an abdominal or pelvic scan you may be asked to follow special instructions about eating and drinking.

You are welcome to bring a favourite CD to listen to during your scan. 

On the day of your MRI scan

We understand that having a scan can potentially be a time of anxiety and worry. Our experienced and caring medical staff will be there for you, holding your hand, every step of the way. When having an MRI scan, you’ll need to wear loose clothing without zips or metallic part or you may be asked to change into a cotton gown and bathrobe.

You will have to remove any jewellery, hearing aids, watches or glasses. We will also ask you to leave behind coins, keys and credit cards. A secure locker is provided but please leave valuables at home. 

An MRI scan is painless. Depending on the type of scan you have, you may need to have an injection of a special dye (contrast medium), which makes certain parts of your body show up more clearly on the scan. We will talk to you about the possible risks and complications of having this procedure and how they apply to you.

During the procedure

During the scan, your radiographer will help position you on a special table that slides into the MRI scanner. The area that is being scanned needs to be in the middle of the scanner, which stays open at both ends. The entire examination of one body area generally takes around 30 minutes (but can last up to an hour depending on the examination). You will be able to talk to your radiographer before the scan.

During the scan, you should breathe quietly and normally and keep very still as any movement will blur the images.

After the scan

As soon as the scan is finished, you will be able to go home or go back to the ward (if you are inpatient). You can eat and drink as normal and get back to your normal activities.

The picture taken during MRI examination is carefully studied by the radiologist (consultant trained in reading MRI scans to diagnose and treat illnesses) who will produce a detailed report.

This will be sent to the consultant who referred you for the scan. The results should be available to you at your next clinic appointment. Before you go home, please ask your radiographer when you can expect to get your results. If you haven’t been told the results within two weeks, please get in touch. If you have any questions or concerns, we’re ready to help.


If you have any questions or would like more information, contact us on 0131 316 2507 or info@spireedinburgh.com.

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