How Long Does An MRI Take?
Because an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) can take clear, accurate images of many different parts of the body, the length of your appointment can vary from half an hour to upwards of 2 hours. The best estimate would be between 15-90 minutes for the scan itself. Your appointment will likely be between 1.5-2 hours, because of the time needed to change your clothes or double check your medical history. This may seem long, but if you look at it as an investment in your health and well-being, MRI scans provide the clearest and most accurate results – which are definitely worth the extra time.
As we’ve already established, the length of time can depend on what’s being scanned. For these common scans, the times are as follows:
- Head MRI: 30 minutes to 1 hour
- Brain MRI: 30 minutes to 2 hours
- Back MRI: 30 minutes to 1 hour
- Spine MRI: 30 minutes to 2 hours
- Full body MRI: 1 hour to 1.5 hours
The length of your MRI appointment is mostly out of your control. You can help keep the process on track by being on time for your appointment and holding very still during your scans, so none have to be retaken. There is new technology on the horizon that might be able to speed up the MRI process. At SJRA, we are excited to see the development of these new MRI machines and promise you that we will stay on the cutting edge of new technologies.
How Do I Prepare For An MRI Scan?
Preparing for an MRI is very simple. You can eat, drink, and medicate normally before your appointment. Make sure to remove any jewelry and piercings before your scan. Wear loose fitting, comfortable clothing, preferably clothes that do not contain any metal (zippers, buttons, underwire bras, etc.). If your clothes have metal in or on them, you will be given a hospital gown to change into. Be sure not to wear deodorant or makeup to your appointment – it could contain microscopic bits of metal that would heat up in the MRI machine and potentially hurt you.
Bring what you need to your appointment, but you will be asked to leave your purse or items like cellphone, wallet, keys, etc. in a secure locker location. The MRI machine is basically a large magnet, capable of erasing credit cards, so it is especially important to leave those behind. The MRI machine is made up of a metal bed that slides into a large donut shaped magnetic tube. The opening of this tube is around 60 centimeters. That size may surprise you, but the tube needs to be that small in order for the radio frequency to produce the magnetic waves required to capture the images of your interior.
If the size of the tube concerns you for any reason, SJRA has you covered: we offer alternative machines that provide more comfort and space. We also have wide-bore MRI machines that have an opening 10 centimeters wider than a traditional MRI. Open MRI machines are open on 3 sides and the only part of your body that is enclosed will be whatever part is being imaged.
What Should I Do If I Am Nervous For An MRI?
If you are nervous about getting an MRI, you are not alone. Many people experience anxiety linked to claustrophobia, which can make it difficult to get an MRI. But at SJRA, we don’t want anything to block you from the care you need. Before your scan, practice taking deep breaths, picture yourself in a happy place, stretch, etc. If you are worried about the size of the MRI machine, talk to your doctor about any of the above alternative machines or about the possibility of being sedated.
At SJRA, we do our best to make sure you are comfortable during your MRI. We will give you ear plugs, headphones, a head rest, blanket, and washcloth to cover your eyes. However, be sure not to fall asleep during your scan. We all tend to twitch in our sleep and that movement could produce blurry scans. When getting your MRI, you can keep the process on track and on time by holding still. If you move during an MRI, the images will come out blurry and you will have to start your scans over.
If you are nervous about panicking inside the MRI machine, talk to your doctor about sedation options. If you choose to be sedated, make sure you have someone to drive you to and from your appointment. Your sedation will likely last for 1-2 hours after your appointment is over.
If you start to panic during an MRI, do not attempt to get out of the machine yourself – let the metal bed slide out on its own. Press the panic button and use the intercom to communicate with your technician as best you can. If you feel yourself getting nervous, tell your technician that you need a second and you can take a break.
What Happens After An MRI?
After your scan, you will be free to leave. If you received any sedation, you will need to have someone else there to drive you home. There are no side effects from getting an MRI scan. Some patients describe feeling tired after an MRI scan, which can usually be explained by the exhaustive stress of getting an MRI. The mental strain of preparing for an MRI, going to your appointment, and waiting for your results can all cause fatigue. If you get an MRI with contrast, you may experience side effects like nausea or itching at your injection site – be sure to mention these to your doctor if they persist.
When Do I Get My MRI Results Back?
You won’t be able to see your MRI results right away. Your results will be captured by the MRI technician, then given to a radiology specialist, who will analyze the results and send them to your doctor. Your doctor will contact you between 1-2 weeks to schedule a follow up appointment and create a treatment plan if necessary.
If your results reveal an emergency, your radiologist will get you emergency care immediately. Your technician is not qualified to tell you if something is wrong – you can ask, but they will decline to answer. While you might see this as adding to your stress, the reason is to prevent any stress that would come from incorrect or inaccurate interpretations of your images.
If you get MRI results that are bad or serious, your doctor will likely contact you right away. Their priority is your wellbeing and safety and they want to get you the care you need as fast as possible. If your results are not serious, they will be ready within 1-2 weeks.
Although 2 weeks can feel like a long time to wait for your results, it will be well worth it because MRIs are the most accurate scans available today. They are approximately 90% accurate, leaving a 10% chance of a false positive or false negative. There are some rare cases of misinterpretation of results, which can usually be prevented by getting multiple opinions. Your medical team has multiple chances to accurately understand your MRI results – first the radiologist analyzes your scans, then your doctor looks at your results. For your peace of mind, though, you may want another opinion. Ask your doctor for a referral to a specialist and have them interpret your MRI results.
At SJRA, we do our very best to streamline the appointment process to get you in and out and back to your normal routine as soon as possible. Our team of medical professionals are ready and waiting to help start that process today! Set up your MRI appointment with SJRA at any of the following locations:
- Route 73 Office – Voorhees Township, NJ
- Greentree Office – Marlton, NJ
- Washington Township Office – Sewell, NJ
- Turnersville Office – Washington Township, NJ
- Voorhees Office – Voorhees Township, NJ
- West Deptford Office – West Deptford, NJ
Learn more about the board-certified sub-specialized Radiologists who read and interpret studies at SJRA here.