8 Jan, 2024

How To Prepare for My MRI Scan: Your Guide to MRI Scan Prep for Non-Contrast Procedures

If your doctor has advised you to have an MRI scan, you might be wondering what the process involves. This information pack is designed to help you navigate how to prepare for your scan and what to expect on the day.

We ask that you take a moment to read this information thoroughly, to help you understand how the scanning process works and any safety considerations to keep in mind. If you've booked with Scan.com, we will already have details of your health and medical history, but it's important that you complete any additional forms or questionnaires that may be provided by the scanning centre.

We know your health is as unique as you are, so this document might not answer all of your questions. If you have anything you’d like to speak to us about, our friendly team will be happy to help. You can contact us here.

What is a Magnetic Resonance Imaging scan, and how does MRI work? 

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) creates detailed images of the inside of your body, and, to do that, it uses strong magnets, radio waves, and a computer system. The scan is performed by a professional called a Radiographer.

MRI exams can be used to spot tissue and organ damage and disease, produce detailed images of the blood vessels, pinpoint the exact location of a medical anomaly, and provide useful imaging investigations of the soft tissues, spinal cord, and joints. They can also check how effective previous treatment has been.

An MRI machine usually looks like a short tunnel or tube, but can sometimes have open sides. Normally, MRI scans involve lying on a flat bed that moves you in and out of the scanner. The scanner coils are within the walls of the machine, and they surround your body to create detailed images. The machine doesn’t use any radiation, such as X-rays.

What are the risks and safety considerations for my upcoming MRI?

MRI is a painless and non-invasive procedure, and is one of the safest medical procedures for most patients. Unlike a CT scan, MRI uses no harmful radiation, just powerful magnets and radio signals.

However, there are some situations where you might not be a suitable candidate for an MRI procedure. This is usually because the magnetic field generated in an MRI exam means MRI scans aren't suitable for people with metal implants or metal objects in their body.

It’s important to let us know if any of the following apply to you:

You have medical implants or devices 

If you have a pacemaker, cochlear implants, surgical clips, or any implants within your head or body, please contact us ahead of your scan to check whether or not the scan can be performed. 

You have any metal fragments or shrapnel in your body

If you have had an accident involving metal fragments, it’s important to let us know. In cases where fragments have penetrated your eyes, you will need to have an X-ray of your head to check there are none remaining. This must be arranged before your MRI scan can be safely performed.

You are pregnant

You’ll be asked whether you are pregnant, or think you might be, before your scan. Although there are minimal risks to an unborn baby, there are some circumstances where the benefits of the scan need to be weighed up against any potential risks. This will be decided in conjunction with the referring clinicians and yourself. 

This guide is specifically geared towards MRI scans without contrast agents. Some people may have allergic reactions to contrast materials, so it's important to check whether your scan is with or without contrast, and inform us if you have any allergies as part of your pre-scan questionnaire when you book. Not sure what a contrast dye is? Check out our guide here.

Prep for MRI scan procedures: What do I need to do?

  • We recommend wearing soft, comfortable clothing that has no metal zips, fastenings or decorations. This usually means you’ll be able to wear your own clothes for the scan, but, in some cases a hospital gown will be provided.

  • You’ll be asked to remove watches, jewellery, piercings such as nose rings, dentures, belts, underwired bras, and other metal items, and empty your pockets. Your items will stay with the radiographer during the procedure or be placed into suitable storage.

  • Please don’t eat or drink anything for four hours before your appointment.

  • Please complete any safety questionnaires provided to you before your scan, and bring them to your appointment.


What will happen when I arrive? 

An MRI scan is a quick outpatient procedure, which means it is done on one day and you can resume normal activities immediately afterwards.

  • When you arrive at the scanning centre, please make yourself known to the receptionist, who will welcome you and direct you to the right place.

  • You’ll be taken through to the scanning room, and, if it’s necessary you might be asked to change into a hospital gown in a private changing area. This is also when you’ll be asked to hand over any valuables and metallic items for safekeeping.

  • Hearing aids and coloured contact lenses will also need to be removed, and your radiographer may also point out additional items to take off before the scan.

  • They will then go through your safety forms and checklists and explain the procedure.

  • Magnets are a key part of making an MRI scan work, but keep in mind that the magnetic fields of the MRI machine are always on even if nobody is inside the scanner. The magnetic field can be dangerous if metal objects are within the vicinity of the MRI machine. That's why it's really important to follow instructions carefully, not just during your MRI procedure but before and after, too.

What happens while I'm in the MRI scanner?

MRI machines differ slightly from site to site, but modern MRI scanners tend to require the same kind of procedure:

  • The radiographer will assist you onto the MRI scanner table, which moves you into the scanner. This may be head or feet first, depending on the type of scan you’re having.

  • If you're having an upright or open scan, you might be asked to sit or stand for your scan.

  • They will leave the room once you’re all set up, but they will be able to see you through a window throughout the scan, and talk to you through a microphone. They will also be able to hear what you are saying, if you wish to speak to them. They will watch the images produced via a screen or television monitor.

  • The scan will then begin. It is important that as you lie inside the scanner, you remain very still to ensure good quality images. The scan may take 20 minutes to one hour depending on the part of your body being scanned. 

  • MRI scanners can be very noisy - rhythmic clanging, banging or loud tapping noises are completely normal, but you will usually be given headphones to protect your ears, or even listen to music during the scan.

  • You may receive instructions from the radiographer to hold your breath for a few seconds at a time. This is to make sure a better quality image is captured, without blurring caused by your natural movements.

  • While MRI is a painless and safe procedure, if you experience any pain, warming sensations, or negative effects, it is important to flag it to the clinician doing your scan immediately.

What happens after MRI scans?

  • Once the examination is finished, you’ll be able to get dressed, collect your belongings, and continue your day as normal.

  • If you have any problems after your scan, please contact your GP.

  • The results won’t be given to you straight away as the images need to be reviewed by a radiologist. They’re a specialist doctor trained in interpreting scans. They will write a report, which will be sent to you in the days following your scan.

Further Information

If you have any questions, or would like further information about your scan, you can reach our friendly team by message, email or phone via https://uk.scan.com/contact-us.

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