Preparing for MRI: Tips and Tricks

This Wellness Wednesday post is meant to address emotional wellness during medical testing; specifically MRI. (Magnetic Resonance Imaging: MRI.) I have had more than 20 MRI sessions in the last 4 years. For MS patients, it is common to have a series of three MRI including brain, cervical and thoracic at least once a year, with additional MRI whenever symptoms of relapse are present. Each MRI takes about an hour, so it is often broken up into two sessions. I have done the trifecta in one go a few times, but it’s a toss up as to whether or not that’s the way to go. It’s one less round of dye, but it means 3-4 hours of not moving in a machine.

One of the important things to know about MRI is that it isn’t painful. You do have to stay still, which can be uncomfortable after a while, and most people will have MRI with contrast which includes an IV poke, but that’s about as rough as it gets. There are even MRI machines that are more open if you are someone who struggles with claustrophobia. You have to request those machines when your doctor makes the referral, but they are available. Just make sure to let your doctor know that you are claustrophobic.

I have come to mostly enjoy my time in the MRI machine. It’s time that I can think by myself without the expectation of “doing,” and sometimes I even fall asleep. I always close my eyes and try to get into a relaxed frame of mind. I am reassured by the fact that I am going to get information from the MRI that will help me make decisions regarding my health.

I have been to at least 10 different locations to get MRI, so I can say that they are all somewhat different. With MS, I often do not get to choose my location. It’s typically an emergency and I am sent to the location that has the first opening. Some places will offer earplugs, others have noise cancelling headphones and can stream music for you. One place in town has a handsome tech who looks like a young, buff Tom Cruise and wears a pleasant deodorant. Others have equally competent technicians who do their best to make me comfortable and keep the process as short as possible. You are most likely to encounter the latter.

How to prepare before leaving your house:

  • No makeup if you are having brain MRI.
  • Leave your metal jewelry at home.
  • Bring a non-metal hair band if your hair is past your ears.
  • Wear comfortable clothing without any metal or metal fibers. If you wear a bra with underwire, they will have you remove it. If your clothes have metal, you’ll have to wear a hospital gown- not fun or comfortable. I usually opt for yoga pants and a long sleeve t-shirt.
  • Warm socks! This is a must. It’s very difficult to stay still if you’re cold! MRI machines can get hot, so the rooms are super cold to prevent the machines from overheating. I have never been too hot in an MRI.
  • Start thinking about what kind of music you find relaxing and can request if the site you’re at offers music streaming. The first time I was offered music, I panicked and picked music that I like, but isn’t exactly relaxing. (They aren’t impressed by patient karaoke apparently.)
  • Bring a water bottle for after the MRI because you’ll want to start getting the dye through your system, and you may have gone 2+ hours without any water.
  • If you are experiencing a lot of pain, do your best to help yourself before you leave home. Whether that’s stretching, pain medication, calming tea, or essential oils, you need to get yourself in a state that you’ll be able to sit still. The more you move, the less reliable the test, and the longer it takes.

What to do when you get there:

  • Definitely follow all the directions the technicians and nurses give you.
  • Use the restroom before going in. Try to go even if you don’t feel like you have to.
  • If you’re at a music friendly site, let them know what you would enjoy.
  • Ask for blankets. I always ask for heated blankets, and most places have them. The techs will totally tuck you in. Just enjoy it.
  • Do not say it’s OK if it’s not. You are going to have to stay still for a long time. Get as comfortable as you can. If it takes an extra minute, that’s less than if they have to stop the test.
  • Be kind and friendly. The technicians know you probably don’t feel well. They are also going to be taking care of you and poking you with a needle at some point. Kindness and patience go a long way in making sure the experience is tolerable for everyone.
  • Do not ask the technicians what they saw while running the test. They are not authorized to do so, and you won’t get any definitive answers anyway until a radiologist looks at your images and shares them with your doctor.
  • Results usually take 24-48 hours before getting back to the patient unless your doc is really on top of it, or you’re in the hospital.

Waiting for results is challenging. With technology being what it is, patients can often see results before talking with a doctor. I can’t advise one way or the other on this, as it just depends on how you process things. I can say that I have confused results more than once when I read them on my own, so I try not to get too amped up until I talk to my doctor. If you see your results before talking with the doctor, write down your thoughts and questions to have handy when you do get to sit with the expert.

I have experienced more medical tests, assessments, and procedures than I have time to list. If it goes with MS, I’ve likely done it, or talked about it with my doctor. I’m always open to sharing my experiences with others and hope you’ll reach out to me. I wish you wellness and happiness.

Note: The MRI image above is not a personal one. I used a free image from rawpixel.com

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