Magnetic Resonance Imaging FAQ's

MAGNETIC RESONANCE IMAGING BREAST MRI

DESCRIPTION: Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses radiofrequency waves and a strong magnetic field rather than x-rays to provide remarkably clear and detailed pictures of internal organs and tissues. The technique has proven very valuable for the diagnosis of a broad range of pathologic conditions in all parts of the body, including cancer, heart and vascular disease, stroke, and joint and musculoskeletal disorders. MRI requires specialized equipment and expertise and allows evaluation of some body structures that may not be as visible with other imaging methods.

Breast MRI is recommended to exam women with newly diagnosed breast cancer, particularly women with a diagnosis of lobular cancer or those with dense breast tissue, to evaluate for tumor extent and for the presence of additional tumors. Diagnostic breast MRI may also be recommended if other breast imaging tests are inconclusive from clinical examination, mammography and ultrasound.

Because MRI can give such clear pictures of soft-tissue structures near and around bones, it is the most sensitive exam for spinal and joint problems. MRI is widely used to diagnose sports-related injuries, especially those affecting the knee, shoulder, hip, elbow, and wrist. The images allow the physician to see even very small tears and injuries to ligaments and muscles.

In addition, MRI of the heart, aorta, coronary arteries, and blood vessels is a fast, noninvasive tool for diagnosing coronary artery disease and heart problems. Physicians can examine the size and thickness of the chambers of the heart, and determine the extent of damage caused by a heart attack or progressive heart disease.

WHAT TO EXPECT:

Northwest Hospital Radiology offers state-of-the-art MRI services, performed by highly trained MRI technologists.

Our MRI technologists will guide you effortlessly through the exam. You will be asked to change into a gown, remove your jewelry and wristwatch, lie on the MRI table and remain motionless during the individual image acquisition sequences, which can last up to 8 minutes. We have headphones and a wide variety of music to insulate you from the noise of the MRI machine.

For some exams, a contrast liquid is injected into the veins to improve the images. The MRI table slides through a hollow, tunnel (open at both ends) that houses the MRI scanner. The scanner creates a magnetic field and directs radio waves at the area being scanned. This exposure is painless but may cause you to feel a mild tingling in any dental fillings. Throughout the procedure, the scanner produces humming and thumping sounds.

The only discomfort associated with the test is potential stiffness in the back caused by having to lie still on a hard surface for an extended period. Our technologists will remain in constant communication with you throughout the exam to make your experience entirely comfortable and pleasant.

EXAM INFORMATION AND PREPARATION:

  • No prep for MRI except MRCP.
  • MRCP: Nothing to eat or drink for 4 hours prior to examination.

POST-TEST GUIDELINES:
You can resume normal activities immediately.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS:

MRI Scan - FAQMagnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is an advanced imaging modality that reconstructs an accurate cross-sectional image of the body part being studied. Unlike traditional radiography, which requires radiation for the imaging process, MRI uses magnetic fields and radio frequency coils for image generation. The versatility of the equipment allows image reconstruction in any desired plane or angle, which further enhances the diagnostic potential of this powerful tool. Continuing developments in the field of MRI have propelled the use of MRI beyond anatomic depiction to functional assessment of various body processes (functional MRI, diffusion and perfusion imaging).

WHAT ARE THE COMMON INDICATIONS FOR PERFORMING AN MRI SCAN?

MRI has a wide range of applications in the medical field. It is routinely used for head and neck imaging (e.g. evaluation of stroke, brain tumor, trauma), body imaging (e.g. characterization of liver, pancreatic or kidney lesions), pelvic imaging (e.g. depiction of uterine, ovarian or prostatic disease), musculoskeletal imaging (e.g. diagnosis of traumatic or arthritic changes in the knees, shoulders, hips, spine and other joints), and breast imaging (e.g. clarification of indeterminate breast lesions found by physical exam or mammography and MR Angiography, which non-invasively allows evaluation of the vascular system, including intracranial and neck vessels, pulmonary arteries, heart vessels, aorta and lower extremity vessels.

HOW DO I PREPARE FOR AN MRI EXAM?

The preparation for an MRI exam is simple and is designed to ensure your comfort and safety during the exam.

A few days prior to your exam, you will receive a call from our staff to go over a detailed patient questionnaire, which inquires about prior metal or shrapnel injury to your eyes and body, and recent surgery within the last six weeks or prior surgery for placement of cardiac pacemakers, cerebral aneurysm clips, cochlear or other metallic implants, implanted electronic devices, or neurostimulaters. If any of these conditions apply to you, you will be required to undergo additional screening protocols to assess if it is safe for you to enter the strong magnetic field of the MRI scanner. In some of these circumstances, you may not be able to have an MRI exam.

In all instances you will be asked to change into a gown prior to the exam. Limit jewelry to rings. If you anticipate any difficulty in tolerating the closed space of the exam room, discuss with your referring doctor the need for a prescription for a sedative to be taken on the day of the exam.

For certain MRI scan applications within the abdomen and pelvis, which require power injection of an intravenous contrast agent, you will be required to be fasting for 4 hours prior to the exam time. For most exams, you can eat normally and take your medications according to your usual schedule.

HOW WILL MY SAFETY BE ENSURED DURING THE MRI EXAM?

Several steps are designed to ensure your safety in the MRI scanner magnet. First, you must pass the detailed screening protocol described above. Then, before entering the scanning room, you will be asked to remove any metallic objects from your body, including personal items such as your jewelry, watch, car keys, wallet/purse, hair pins, wigs, dentures, hearing aids and any cards with magnetic stripes (credit cards, parking garage cards etc.).

While you are in the scanning room, you will be in constant voice contact with the MRI technologist performing the exam through an intercom system. The MRI technologist also has constant visual contact with you via a glass window and will be attentive to any of your needs at all times.

All of our MRI technologists are well versed in all security procedures. If you desire, a family member or friend will be allowed to be in the scanning room with you at all times, provided he or she passes the above described screening protocol. The MRI exam is simple, safe and painless. No ionizing radiation is used, and the magnetic fields used for MRI imaging are not known to have any harmful effects. However, since long-term effects of MRI on the developing fetus are not yet fully determined, use of MRI in pregnant patients should be generally avoided, unless a truly valid indication exists.

WHAT SHOULD I EXPECT DURING THE MRI EXAM?

As you enter the MRI scan room, you will hear background noises, which are due to a combination of the MRI scanner itself and the refrigeration system needed to maintain the superconductivity of the powerful MRI magnet. You will be given the option of earplugs or headphones to drown out these external noises. The technologist will position you on the MRI scanning table in such a way that the body part to be imaged is in the center of the scanner. Also, a special radiofrequency coil will be secured over the body part to be imaged, the shape of which is variable. For brain imaging, for instance, the coil resembles a football helmet. The scanning will then begin, and you will be instructed to remain motionless for three to five minutes at a time while the images are being ACQUIRED. SHORTER SEQUENCES REQUIRING BREATH HOLDING MAY BE PERFORMED.

HOW LONG IS THE MRI EXAM?

The average MRI exam takes 35 to 45 minutes to perform. This time frame is, however, variable, since each exam is customized to fit your needs and allow the radiologist to fully answer your doctor's clinical questions.

WILL I BE GIVEN ANY INTRAVENOUS MEDICATION FOR THE MRI SCAN?

For the routine MRI exam, no intravenous medication is required. For some specialized indications, IV contrast agents may be necessary to obtain the most accurate diagnosis. The radiologist will determine on a case-by-case basis whether or not IV dye should be used. The paramagnetic contrast agent gadolinium is generally used in MRI scanning. It has an excellent safety profile with a rare incidence of allergic reactions. For most contrast studies, the gadolinium is administered manually. For some exams of the abdomen and pelvis, the gadolinium will have to be given via an automatic power injector to ensure a constant and rapid flow of contrast agent during the scan. In these instances, you will be notified in advance, so that you can be fasting for four hours prior to the exam.

WHAT IS AN OPEN MRI UNIT?

Open MRI refers to the physical shape of the MRI scanner. Open MRI units are usually wider and shorter than traditional MRI units. Certain open MRI scanners may even be open on all sides. Most open MRI units are of lower field strength than traditional units. The open design of the open MRI units is well suited for patients who have trouble with claustrophobia, are very young or very large.

SHOULD I UNDERGO A TRADITIONAL HIGH FIELD STRENGTH MRI EXAM OR AN OPEN MRI EXAM?

Depending on your imaging needs, the radiologist will determine which type of scanner will best help answer your doctor's clinical questions. Your preferences will be taken into account when making this decision. Our goal is to answer your doctor's clinical question, while maximizing your comfort and convenience.

WHEN WILL I GET THE RESULTS OF THE MRI SCAN?

A board certified radiologist with specialty training in Neuro MRI, Body MRI, Vascular or Breast MRI will review your exam, and a report will be available to your physician generally within two business days. Emergent cases will be verbally communicated to your physician in a more expeditious manner.

WHAT IS MR ANGIOGRAPHY (MRA)?

MR Angiography is a magnetic resonance technique that allows the noninvasive evaluation of blood vessels within the body. Unlike traditional angiography, MRA requires no arterial puncture or catheter manipulations to generate exquisitely detailed images of the body's arterial or venous systems. Also, MRA involves no radiation to you. Thus, MRA has a wonderful safety profile. Image quality is comparable to traditional angiography.