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First MRI? Here Is What to Expect

Does a scheduled MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scan have you anxious—your palms sweating? Do the walls already seem to be closing in on you?

Although MRI exams are painless and safer than an X-ray—MRI scans don’t emit radiation—they can make even the most calm, steady person a little nervous. Banner Imaging is here to help put your mind at ease and calm those jitters. We share exactly what to expect before, during and after your MRI scan, so you have a comfortable and pleasant experience.

First things first …

If this is your first time getting an MRI exam, don’t worry, you’ll be in good company. Nearly 40 million MRI scans are performed in the U.S. each year. Unlike other forms of imaging, MRI scans allow your doctor to see both bony and soft tissue within your body to help get a better idea of what is going on.

Did you know there are several different types of MRI scanners, as well? While you are most familiar with the donut-shaped MRI (formerly known as traditional) machine, today there are several options. You probably aren’t aware, but not every radiology facility offers each type of MRI scanner. These include:

  1. Traditional MRI: A traditional MRI machine is a large tube, roughly 23.5 inches in diameter that a patient lays in.
  2. Wide Bore MRI: Essentially this is the same as the traditional MRI machine, but it is a little wider—roughly 27.5 inches. The wide bore is ideal for larger patients and those who are claustrophobic.
  3. Open MRI: Often described as a hamburger bun or flying saucer, the open MRI machine gives patients more visibility on either side of them to see the room and has more airflow.
  4. Standing or Sitting MRI: This type of machine is typically only useful in specific circumstances, because it doesn’t provide good image quality. The machine was designed for those who can’t lay down due to an injury or physical condition or if your doctor wants a weight-bearing type scan.

“At Banner Imaging, we provide both traditional MRI and wide bore MRI scans as well as open MRI scans at our hospital, clinics and many of our imaging locations,” said Stephanie St Jean, MRI coordinator and supervisor for Banner Imaging.

What to expect before the MRI

Before you schedule your MRI appointment, tell your doctor if you suffer from claustrophobia, so they can make special accommodations if necessary. They may prescribe you an oral medication to help reduce your anxiety or send you to an imaging facility that provides IV sedation.

“This works very well, and patients tend to be more relaxed throughout the exam,” said St Jean. “If necessary, they can have a friend or spouse stay in the room with them as long as they are safely screened.”

What to expect the day of the MRI

Unless otherwise instructed, on the morning of your scan you will be able to run your morning routine as you normally would – eating breakfast and taking your usual medication.

When you arrive at the imaging center, you will be asked a series of screening questions, such as recent surgeries and medical history, to ensure your safety. The biggest precaution, however, is to ensure you don’t wear or have any metal inside of you.

“Many imaging centers require patients to change into a gown or scrubs prior to their MRI study, which are supplied at each office for safety purposes,” said St Jean. “It has been proven that several different types of clothing have metal fibers which can cause burning during the exam. To ensure their safety, patients are also expected to answer a series of safety questions regarding previous surgeries and possible metal implants, such as pacemakers, heart stents, stimulators and joint replacements prior to entering the MRI suite.”

While everyone’s experience will be different, here are some other things to note:

  • Arrive early. This will give you time to fill out any additional paperwork and any other prep that might be necessary. The imaging center will usually give you a timeframe for you to arrive to allot for this.
  • Change clothes. As mentioned earlier, you’ll want to remove any metal items, such as jewelry, glasses, hairpins and even underwire bras that could affect the effectiveness of the scan and your personal safety. The office will provide you a gown or scrubs to wear during the exam and a secure place to store your belongings.
  • Secure a ride home. If you plan to take medication or a sedative, plan ahead of time by having someone either come with you or ask someone to pick you up once the procedure is complete.

What to expect during the exam

The first thing you should know during your exam is that your comfort is most important. Your technologist will provide you with special instructions, blankets, ear plugs and a special button or tool to communicate with them throughout the exam.

Depending on what needs to be scanned, your test will take between 20 to 90 minutes.

Here are some things to expect during the exam:

  • Padded table. If using a traditional, wide bore or open MRI machine, the imaging technologist will have you lie down on a padded table that slides into the tunnel of the bore (tunnel) where the scanning will take place.
  • Call button. Your technologist will give you a call button to alert them if something is wrong.
  • Thumping noises. At certain times you’ll hear noises caused by the changing magnetic fields. The clunk, clunk, clunk and buzz sound can be a little stressful for some but shouldn’t be cause for concern. You’ll be given ear plugs or a sound canceling headset and can listen to music to help drown out some of the noise.
  • Remain still. The key to succeeding in an MRI exam is to remain as relaxed as possible. Try to keep your body still and let your mind wander. Although deep breathing can be relaxing, it can affect the scan of your chest or abdomen. Your technologist may give you special instructions to hold your breath if one is needed.

What to expect after the MRI

Unless you’ve been given medication or a sedative, you can resume your daily activities. Once your MRI scan is complete, you’ll be escorted back to the changing area to retrieve your belongings.

If your doctor gave you any medication or sedation, DO NOT attempt to drive yourself home. Make sure you have someone who can get you home.


Although intimidating machines to look at, an MRI exam is nothing to be nervous about. These exams are critical tools used to give your doctor a clearer picture of what is going on inside your body and how to best provide you care.

Has your doctor recommended you receive an MRI scan? If so, don’t wait. Find a Banner Health location nearest you or give us a call. Banner’s certified imaging staff is always ready to help. Let us know if you have questions during any stage of your MRI exam.

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