This week, I underwent an Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) exam that was performed in our 3T MRI scanner that was recently brought into the Diagnostic Imaging Services – Veterans Memorial Boulevard location. As someone who has gone through MRI tests either as a “test patient” or in this case, an actual patient study, I wanted to give a few tips that may help someone who receives a recommendation to have an MRI.

What was involved with the MRI?

The MRI study I had involved the use of a contrast dye. The first step after stepping into the MRI suite was to have an IV line put in. It’s similar to having blood drawn as part of your annual wellness exam, only instead of blood being drawn for analysis, during the test, the contrast is eventually injected into your vein.

My technologist informed me when the contrast was going to take place and reminded me to keep my arm straight and still. Of course, I complied. I know a quality MRI test will hinge on me as the patient being as still as possible when things are taking place such as images acquired and contrast being received.

You may be asking yourself “how did he know when the images are being acquired?” Images are being captured when the MRI makes all of its unique noises, from knocks and pings, to rattles and buzzers. That’s the time to “make like a mannequin” and remain still and calm. In being a DIS associate, I have this insider information. 🙂

What did I do?

  1. First, it is important to know that in several of our MRI scanners, you can listen to Pandora Internet radio. Very cool. You can select from a number of channels and music types. I highly recommend music that makes you happy and calm. In other words, avoid the heavy metal rock and hip hop that may make you want go back to your headbanger days or start breaking out your favorite dance moves. As a test patient in a previous MRI, I was politely scolded by a colleague of mine for humming along to Christmas tunes (the test scan was done one year in early December). I, of course, replied by calling her a scrooge. For those MRI units without Internet radio, we have ear plugs or headphones available that do a terrific job of noise reduction.
  2. I closed my eyes. I know that sounds simple — and it is! From the time I was positioned on the table and the coil was put in place (a coil is the device required in order for the MRI to acquire images of the body part being examined), I closed my eyes, relaxed and breathed normally. If closing the eyes may not be manageable, consider bringing a sleep mask and wear that during your exam.
  3. When the scanner started “doing its thing,” in addition to the soft jazz playing in my ears, I played a game in my head. If you listen real close to the MRI sounds, you can detect certain patterns of pitch and types of pings and knocks. When I best identified the patterns, I tried to count how many pings and knocks per pattern. I know this sounds like math, but hey it’s a great way to keep your mind occupied while having the test. I counted pulses, pings and knocks that went eight, 13 and even 140 times each before changing pitch and tone.

How did I do?

The exam, because it used a contrast dye, took about an hour to complete. The vast majority of MRI studies take about 30 minutes to complete as they do not use contrast. In my case, it was required. I came out of test just fine and was complimented by the technologists. (Now I suspect I have furthered my internal reputation as a great test patient for any future MRI training that will happen!)

The interesting thing to note is that often when an MRI exam uses contrast, the medical provider will order it as an MRI with and without contrast. In reality, it is performed the other way around. The MRI is without and with! This means the first part of the MRI is done without the dye and then dye is added to acquire additional images for the radiologist to review. As I said before, the technologist let me know when the contrast was starting. I could feel it being injected. It was a slight sensation that can vary by individual as to its feel. But, contrast plays a very important role in the appropriate MRI studies.

I also listened very closely to the instructions given to me by the technologist. There were about six to eight times during my MRI where I was asked to hold my breath. I was directed to breathe in deeply through my nose, breathe out through my mouth and then hold for about 15-20 seconds. Then, I got the “all clear” (i.e. “breathe” command) to resume normal breathing.

In addition to playing the math game in my head, I also thought about my happy places and people. I thought my son’s upcoming nuptials in a month. I pictured myself sitting with a cup of coffee next to a quiet river in an early morning. I was going to imagine my boss sitting at his desk in his underwear, but knew that would make me laugh, which means movement which is a no-no. So, don’t think those types of thoughts!

The critical role for you as the patient is to remain still when the MRI is making all its weird noises. Even the slightest movement can cause picture distortion, from turning your head slightly to muscle movement. Sometimes, a twitch can’t be avoided as it is involuntary, but make like a mannequin (or womanqun) as best you can! Remember, when you are still, the images are prettier and results in the best opportunity for a high quality test for the radiologist and your doctor.

My personal experience recommendations

  • Bring or wear comfortable clothes for the MRI. I wore a t-shirt and gym shorts. I recommend socks as the MRI unit is kept cool. No metals of any kind should be on your clothes or body (i.e. zippers, earrings, rings, etc.)
  • Visit the restroom just before you enter the MRI suite. A large part of being comfortable during the test is not having the nagging “I have to go” feeling!
  • Be calm. Know that you will be in excellent hands.
  • Be still. Being the appropriate “quin” goes a tremendously long way to the quality study your doctor needs as part of their diagnosis.
  • Have a little fun with it. I know this may be a stretch for some, but use either my techniques or come up with your own in your head. Who knows, maybe you’ll come up with some great lyrics to a song or lines for a poem.
  • Remember you are safe. The MRI scanner will not harm you. Other than the noises it makes, it’s just sitting there. A big paperweight. But a tremendous valuable technology when in the hands of our technologists and radiologists.
  • Close your eyes and keep them closed. Or use a sleeping mask. Just try not to fall asleep if you get too comfortable. The technologist needs you to be awake and alert.

For those people who have high anxiety about an MRI, we do offer Valium as a sedative. You may need to arrive earlier than usual for your MRI to have the sedative administered. You will need to have transportation home as DIS will not allow you to go behind the wheel and drive.

There you have it. Hope I’ve helped. Send a Facebook message if you’d like to learn more or to ask me a question. I’ll be happy to answer as best I can. Look us up at facebook.com/DIS.NewOrleans.

Scott