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MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scans are used to examine almost every part of the body more closely. Bones, joints, internal organs, blood vessels, the brain, the spinal cord, and the breasts can all be seen closely on these scans, which use radio waves and strong magnetic fields. Though many people about to undergo an MRI scan are a little frightened by the prospect of being slid into a magnetic tube, within which they have to remain motionless, MRI scans are very safe on the whole.
They can even safely be used during pregnancy, and do not cause patients who undergo them to be exposed to X-rays.

This does not, however, mean that MRI scans are without risks, or that everyone can undergo an MRI scan.

Who Might Not Be A Good Candidate For An MRI Scan?

You may not be able to undergo an MRI scan if:

  • You have a pacemaker, a nerve stimulator, or another implanted medical device.
  • You could possibly have metal in your body, whether due to surgery, because you work with metal and may have some embedded somewhere as the result of a work accident, or because you have ever been shot.

Always let your MRI tech know if either of these may apply to you, and your medical team can run further tests or determine the model of your medical device to ensure that you can indeed safely have an MRI scan.

Also know that the contrast dye that is sometimes used during the procedure can rarely cause an allergic reaction.

Diabetics and people with kidney disease are especially likely to experience complications from encountering contrast dye, so again, let your healthcare team know if this applies to you — even if you expect them to be fully aware of your medical history.

Other Potential Risks

MRI scans may also rarely:

  • Lead to skin burns in patients undergoing them, due to wires in the patient's vicinity or on their body. Remaining completely still during the procedure and not touching the sides of the MRI tube helps prevent this.
  • Lead your core body temperature to rise during longer sessions, something that in practice tends to almost exclusively in infants.
  • Lead to asphyxiation, should the magnetic field be turned off by accident or in a pre-planned manner, as the liquid helium used can assume a state of gas. (This is an exceedingly rare event.)

Finally, many people experience the MRI process as claustrophobia-inducing. However, your tech will communicate with you throughout the scan, reducing your feeling of isolation and fear.

Pain During And After MRI Scans

As some SteadyHealth readers asked about possible causes of pain during and after MRI scans, we will also address this question. It is quite possible that lying immobile in the same position for a longer amount of time, and involuntarily tensing your muscles because you are doing your very best to be as still as your tech is asking you to, is the cause of the pain many patients experience. In this case, the pain should subdue within a few days to a week.

Stress is another possible cause — you may experience the scan itself as stressful, or may be worrying about the potential diagnoses the scan could reveal. In addition, some patients find themselves in a heightened state of awareness of all kinds of physical sensations following an MRI scan, for similar reasons.

However, pain can also be caused by the presence of metal in the body. MRI scans can cause metal objects to shift in location, potentially causing severe damage. This is why it is so important to let your medical team know if there is any possibility at all that you have any kind of metal inside your body.

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