MRI scan

(magnetic resonance imaging scan)

Multi-dimensional scans to investigate many types of different conditions

A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan uses magnets and radio waves to produce both two and three dimensional pictures of the inside of your body. It’s suitable for every part of the body, including bones, soft tissues (such as blood vessels, ligaments and muscles) and the brain, and so can help to diagnose and monitor many different medical conditions.

A referral letter from a consultant or GP is required before booking any diagnostic investigation.

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What to expect when you have an MRI scan

An MRI scan is routinely done as an outpatient procedure.

Most MRI scans need no special preparation. However, if you are having an abdominal or pelvic scan you may be asked to follow special instructions about eating and drinking. Please see your appointment letter for details.

During the MRI scan

When having an MRI scan, you’ll need to wear loose clothing without zips or metallic parts, and to remove any jewellery, hearing aids, watches or glasses. We will also ask you to leave behind coins, keys and credit cards.

An MRI scan is painless. Depending on the type of scan you have, you may need to have an injection of a special dye (contrast medium), which makes certain parts of your body show up more clearly on the scan.

During the scan, your radiographer will help position you on a special table that slides into the MRI scanner. This will usually be repeated several times and the entire examination generally takes around 30 minutes (but can last up to an hour depending on the examination). You will be able to talk to your radiographer throughout the scan.

You will hear some noise during the procedure – this is completely normal and is the sound of the MRI scan machine taking the images. We will provide you with earplugs or headphones and often you can choose to listen to music if you wish.

During the scan, you should breathe quietly and normally and keep very still as any movement will blur the images.


MRI scans are considered very safe with no known side effects from exposure to magnetic or radio waves. Adverse reactions to the special contrast dye sometimes used are very rare and can usually be treated immediately.

We will talk to you about the possible risks and complications of having this procedure and how they apply to you.

A radiologist, a doctor trained in reading MRI scans, will examine the images. A report will be sent to the doctor who requested your test. This can take several days to reach your doctor. Before you go home, please ask you radiographer when you can expect to get your results. If you haven’t been told the results within two weeks, call your doctor.

Your doctor may recommend a MRI scan for a number of reasons. Parts of the body examined with MRIs include:

  • Joints and muscles – An MRI scan is often used to look at tissue around joints and bones, and can help to diagnose injuries to your elbow, hip and knee. It can also detect conditions such as arthritis, bursitis, crepitus or tendon tears.
  • Heart – MRI scans can capture images of your heart including the valves and blood vessels, helping to diagnose heart defects or disease. They may be used to examine the heart after a heart attack.
  • Brain – An MRI scan can be used to help analyse the brain for tumours, possible causes of a headache and abnormal tissue growth. It may also be used to assess any damage to the brain after a stroke.
  • Tumours – MRIs can produce detailed images of soft tissue, which show the difference between normal and diseased tissue such as a tumour. It can also check the progress of a tumour to establish whether it is shrinking or growing.
  • Bowel incontinence

An MRI scan may also be recommended to detect bladder cancer.

The magnetic field from an MRI scan affects metals such as iron, nickel and steel, so they’re not suitable for everyone. You might not be able to have one if you have a pacemaker, certain implants, artificial joints or metal clips in your body for example. As a precaution, MRI scans are not usually done on women who are less than 12 weeks pregnant.

You can usually eat, drink and take your medications as usual on the day of your MRI scan. However, in some cases, depending on the part of your body being scanned, your doctor may ask you not to eat or drink anything for up to four hours before your MRI scan or conversely, they may ask you to drink a large amount of water just before your MRI scan.

When you arrive for your MRI scan, you will be given a questionnaire to complete about your medical history and health. This ensures your healthcare team are aware of any health issues you’re facing so they can complete your scan safely. You will then need to sign a consent form to confirm that you agree to have an MRI scan.

You will be asked to remove all metal objects from your body as the MRI machine uses strong magnets. You will therefore need to remove:

  • hearing aids
  • jewellery eg bracelets, earrings and necklaces
  • piercings eg piercings in your ears, nose and nipples
  • dentures
  • watches
  • wigs — certain wigs have trace amounts of metal

Depending on the part of your body being scanned, you may be asked to change into a hospital gown. If you do not need to wear a hospital gown, you will need to wear clothes that do not contain any metal parts eg metal belts, buckles, buttons, fasteners or zips, or bras with an underwire.

At Sussex Premier Health, our MRI scans start from £379.

For more information, please speak to a member of our Radiology on 01424 757401.

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