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Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

Magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, is a non-invasive test that uses magnetic waves to take clear, detailed pictures of the inside of your body. Gundersen offers large-opening MRI machines to increase the comfortability of patients who may be claustrophobic or unable to lie on a flat table. These machines offer more space than normal MRI machines, a faster exam time for patients and more precise diagnoses.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging is used to study:

  • Heart, brain, liver, pancreas, breast and other soft tissues
  • Neck, back or joint pain
  • Blood flow and blood vessel problems
  • Spine disease
  • Tumors and other forms of cancer
  • Headaches
  • Brain disorders
  • Infections
  • Muscles, ligaments and cartilage
  • Bone and joint injuries

How to prepare for an MRI

You must lie very still for this test. If it hurts to lie still on your back, tell your doctor. You can have medicine to relieve pain during the MRI.

Medicine to help you relax or to relieve pain must be:

  • Ordered by your doctor
  • Picked up at the pharmacy of your choice before you arrive for your MRI

Are you pregnant? Talk with your doctor before having an MRI.

On the day of the test

Take your pills as you always do. You will be asked to put on a hospital gown. This is for your safety and comfort. Eat normal meals unless you are told differently.

Contrast medicine

Contrast medicine—also known simply as contrast—is a special liquid that makes disease or injury easier to see in the scans. It will be given to you through a needle in a vein in your arm or hand. If you have ever had a reaction to contrast in the past, tell your doctor. You can have medicine to keep this from happening again.

If you have contrast, you may feel a warm rush in your body and your mouth may taste like metal. These are normal side effects that should pass in a few minutes. Contrast may cause an allergic reaction. This is rare. You may experience one or more of these:

  • Hives
  • Pulse change
  • Wheezing
  • Seizure
  • Difficulty breathing

The radiologist will give you medicine to stop these during the test.

During the test

You can always hear and talk to the MRI team during the test. In fact, the technician will provide instruction to you through out the exam, asking you to take a breath in, hold it and then exhale as they work to get the necessary images. Staff will make every effort to put you at ease. You will lie on a padded table for 30 minutes to one hour. The MRI makes loud thumping noises. You can use earplugs or listen to music through headphones. A staff member will give these to you.

Your MRI may be delayed by a sudden need to change the schedule. A patient may need an MRI due to an accident or an acute change in condition that threatens his or her life. You may have to come back on another day. This is very rare.

After the test

If you have not taken a drug to relax, you may drive yourself home. If you take a drug to relax, someone must drive you home. Staff can call a cab for you, though you must pay the fare. Eat, drink and take your medicine as usual.

Test results

A radiologist will look at pictures taken during your test. A report about your pictures will be sent to your doctor in 24 to 48 hours. It may take longer for you to get this information if you have had other tests. Your doctor needs to see results of all tests before they can be explained.

MRI safety

The MRI scanner uses a strong magnet and pulses of energy to produce pictures of your body. You will not see or feel this magnetic field. It is always on and does not turn off between scans. Help our MRI staff keep you safe. Answer all of their questions and follow these rules.

Keep metal away from the MRI: The scanner attracts metal objects with great speed and force. All metal objects must be kept out of the MRI scan rooms. This rule protects you and our staff from being injured.

Do not wear or carry anything on this list into the MRI scan room. If you have other metal items that are not on the list, keep them out of the scan room, too. Your property will be kept in a safe place during your exam. Always ask a staff member if you are not sure what to take off before your exam. Never guess.

  • Keys or key chain
  • Life Alert device
  • Pager or beeper
  • Hearing aids
  • Cell phone
  • Pens
  • Pocketknife
  • Medicine patches
  • Coins or wallet
  • Eyeglasses
  • Wrist watch
  • Hair accessories
  • Full or partial dentures
  • Studs, rings or other metal in pierced body parts
  • Jewelry – With this exception: You may wear wedding rings made of gold, platinum, silver or blends of these metals. If you are not sure what your ring is made of, ask the MRI technologist to test your ring.

Implants in your body may not be safe: Implanted devices can harm you during an MRI. If you have an implant, you cannot be scanned unless our staff knows your implant is safe. Ask a staff member if you are unsure if the device is safe. These three devices are oftentimes not safe in MRI:

  • Pacemaker
  • Neurostimulator 
  • Implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD)

Here are examples of other items our staff must evaluate before you have an MRI scan:

  • Foreign metal objects, especially in or near your eye
  • Medication patch with metal foil in it
  • Ear or eye implants
  • Aneurysm clips (unless they are known to be MRI safe)
  • Metal plates (unless they are known to be MRI safe)

Never guess if an object or implant is safe. Always ask an MRI technologist.

what to expect

We've taken steps at all our locations to keep you and our staff healthy and safe. Here's what to expect when you visit us.

Stay safe