MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) is a type of imaging test that gives doctors a detailed look inside the body, including at the soft tissue, ligaments, joints, abdomen, reproductive system, heart, brain and spinal cord.

There is no radiation exposure with an MRI. Rather, MRIs use a magnetic field and radio waves to create 3-D pictures.

MRIs are used to help detect and/or monitor treatment for a variety of conditions. The test itself is painless, but you’ll need to remain very still and the scanner makes loud buzzing and knocking sounds.

At Atrium Health, formerly Carolinas HealthCare System, we:

  • Offer MRI scanners to provide both routine and advanced imaging for cardiology, pediatrics and neurology
  • Are home to the state’s only dedicated pediatric MRI unit
  • Have several of the most powerful MRI machines available
  • Provide the most innovative cardiac MRI tests in the region with dedicated doctors and technical staff to find heart conditions early on
  • Have special goggles and headphones available for patients to view movies or listen to music during their MRI test at certain locations

Who Should Avoid Having an MRI?

People with certain types of devices or metal fragments in their body shouldn’t have an MRI. Metal can interfere with the scanner’s magnetic field. Some examples include:

  • Brain aneurysm clips
  • Certain pacemakers, defibrillators or heart valves
  • Orthopedic rods, screws or artificial joints
  • Eye or ear implants
  • Certain IUDs

Preparing for an MRI

Your doctor will provide information about how to best prepare for your specific MRI test.

In general you should:

  • Wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothing; you may be given a gown to wear during the exam.
  • Remove jewelry, hair clips, eyeglasses, hearing aids and any other metal objects. Don’t bring cell phones into the exam area.
  • Follow any instructions that were given to you. For example, you may need to avoid eating or drinking for a certain period of time before your exam.
  • Arrive at least 30 minutes before your scheduled exam time to register and fill out a screening form. This information sheet will ask whether you have any metal or other devices in your body that could interfere with the scan or cause you injury.

Before you get a scan, be sure to tell your doctor if you:

  • Are pregnant
  • Have any metal in your body or if you’ve had any recent surgeries
  • Get nervous in confined spaces
    • Your doctor may be able to give you something to help you relax. If your MRI has been scheduled with sedation or anesthesia, you should arrive one hour before the scan.

If you have any questions, call your doctor or the location where you're having the MRI and ask to speak with a technologist.

What to Expect During and After an MRI

MRIs usually take between 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the test.

Here's what you can expect before the test:

  • An MRI technologist will greet you and review your information.
  • You’ll be asked to undress, remove jewelry or other items and wear a hospital gown.
  • He or she will scan your body with a wand-like device before you enter the test room to make sure no metal is detected.
  • The technologist will help position you on a narrow table to get the best pictures and to help make you as comfortable as possible.
  • The table, which is on tracks, will slowly move you inside the tunnel-shaped machine.

During the test:

  • The scanner is noisy. You will be given earplugs or the option to listen to music during your test.
  • Try to remain still to avoid blurring the images.
  • Even though you'll be alone in the room, the technologist will:
    • Check in with you over a speaker during the test; a window allows him/her to see you at all times and monitor you throughout the exam.
    • Give you a call button to press in case you need anything during the exam.
    • Ask you to hold your breath for up to 30 seconds at a time during the scan, if needed.
  • If your doctor ordered the test with contrast, a special dye may be injected into your arm before or during the exam.

After the test:

  • You can resume all of your usual activities.
  • If you've been given any type of medication to sedate or relax you, you will be given instructions to follow before and after the exam. You will also need to have someone available to drive you home.
  • Contact your doctor with any questions or concerns.

A radiologist (a doctor who uses medical imaging techniques to find or treat diseases or injuries) will look at the images and send a report to the doctor who ordered the exam within three business days. Your doctor will help explain what the results mean for you.

What Is "Contrast"?

For some MRI tests, a substance called gadolinium may be injected into your vein right before or during one part of the test. This contrast agent - like a dye - helps make the pictures even clearer.

If you’re given contrast in a vein, you may notice a metallic taste in your mouth and either a cold or warm, flushing feeling through your body. These sensations are harmless and go away within a few moments.

Be sure to drink plenty of water after your test to help flush the contrast out of your system.

Tell your doctor if you have:

  • Kidney problems
  • Had issues with contrast dye in the past
  • A fear of being in small or confined spaces (claustrophobia)
  • Trouble lying flat or holding still

What About Specialized MRIs?

We offer specialized MRI tests that provide even more information about certain anatomy. For example, those that assess the heart (cardiac MRIs), brain function (functional MRI) and breast (breast MRIs). These exams are part of the innovative imaging technology offered at Atrium Health.

Cardiac MRI

A cardiac MRI provides detailed images of the heart without having to insert a catheter directly into an artery. There’s no significant recovery time and the cost is substantially less when compared to standard angiography.

This test is used to detect and guide the treatment of heart disorders, stroke and blood vessel disease. For example:

  • Coronary heart disease - narrowing of the blood vessels
  • Tumors
  • Damage from a heart attack
  • Changes to normal heart structure

Here's what you can expect:

  • Cardiac MRI generally takes an hour, but the test time can vary depending on what type of heart condition is being evaluated.
  • You will be asked to wear a gown and electrocardiography (EKG) leads or wires will be placed on your chest to monitor your heart rate
  • You may be prescribed certain medications before or during the test to control heart rate.
  • You may also receive a special dye or contrast to help give clearer pictures of your heart and blood vessels.

Functional MRI, or fMRI

This test is used to assess or diagnose a variety of neurological conditions – it allows doctors to see the brain structures and watch someone’s brain function. This test helps determine which areas of the brain are active during various cognitive tasks (e.g., questions or promoted hand motions). Doctors give patients a series of tasks to perform during the MRI so that real-time brain activity can be recorded and monitored.

Breast MRI

This test provides a very detailed exam of the breast(s). It typically adds to what is found with a mammography.

Breast MRI is often recommended for women:

  • With an increased risk of breast cancer and
  • Those post-breast surgery and/or radiation

Here's what you can expect during the test:

  • You will lay on your stomach with your arms reaching overhead.
  • You may be asked to hold your breath for brief intervals.

This scan offers enhanced visibility through the use of a special dye or contrast that enhances the area of interest within the breast tissue.

For More Information

If you have any questions, call your doctor or the location where you're having the MRI and ask to speak with a technologist.

If you need to schedule an imaging est, call 1-704-512-2060.

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