What is an MRI?

MRI stands for Magnetic Resonance Imaging, which is a diagnostic test that uses a strong magnetic field and pulses of radio wave energy to make pictures of organs and structures inside the body.

Are there any risks to having an MRI scan?

There are no known physical side effects from MRI procedures.

The MRI scanner's strong magnetic field is always on, even if the machine is not currently scanning. If unrestrained iron or steel objects are accidentally brought near the MRI magnet, they can be pulled very quickly toward the magnet and can strike people in or near the magnet. This is why we take great care to screen patients for metal implants. Not all MRIs are the same strength, so even patients who have had a recent MRI need to be rescreened for safety. Before going near the magnet we are also sure to remove jewelry, peircings, or anything from our pockets like keys or glasses.

Some people experience dizziness or a metallic taste in their mouth if they move their head rapidly in the magnet. This is only a temporary effect and is not experienced if the head is kept still.

The scanner produces loud sounds at times, so we provide headphones to reduce the noise you hear. You may also feel bladder pain or discomfort that comes from delaying urination during the initial scans that require a full bladder. We will check in with you frequently, so that acquiring this data will not cause you undue urgency. Although the long-term risk of exposure to magnetic fields and radiofrequencies associated with MRI is not known, the possibility of any long-term risk is extremely low in view of the information accumulated over the past twenty years

Certain metal devices, implants, or conditions may make it unsafe for you to you to be near the strong magnetic field of the MRI. These can include, but are not limited to:

  • Aneurysm clips
  • Artificial heart valves
  • Cochlear implants
  • Copper IUDs
  • Exposure to metal fragments in your eye
  • History as a metal worker 
  • Implanted drug infusion devices (ex. Insulin pump)
  • Implanted cardiac defibrillator
  • Metallic implants and prosthesis
  • Neurostimulators
  • Pacemakers
  • Pregnancy
  • Shrapnel or bullet wounds
  • Surgical clips or staples
  • Vascular stents
  • Wire mesh

In the case of implants you may be asked to provide additional information about the material and type of implant in order for us to determine its safety. For questions about the MRI safety of a particular device or condition, please contact the research coordinator. 

What to Wear

An MRI uses a very strong magnet to create a picture of your brain, so its important to not wear any metal in the scanner.

What to Expect During the Scan

  • The scan is on average 45 minutes to 1 hour
  • The scanner is open on both ends, well-lit, and ventilated. There is a two-way intercom system so that in between scans you can speak to us, and we can speak to you.
  • We are getting a picture of your brain, so your head will be in the center of the magnet, and your lower torso and legs will be outside of the magnet.
  • You will be required to lie still during the actual MR scanning. Moving during the scan will lead to blurry pictures that are unusable. 
  • During the actual imaging, you will hear a loud intermittent banging noise. You will be provided with earplugs to  minimize the noise during the procedure. 
  • You are given an alarm button to alert us of any discomfort during the MRI scan

Will I be told about any abnormalities on the MRI scan?

Unlike a standard MRI where you and your doctor would discuss the results, research MRIs are used to help answer a scientific question. Your scans are reviewed as part of a larger group of scans, rather than looked at individually by a medical doctor. For this reason we do not share the results of you research MRI.