What is an MRI scan?

MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) is a non-invasive medical imaging technique that uses a powerful magnetic field and radio waves to build up pictures of the internal cross-section of the body.

MRI scans are commonly used to diagnose and monitor a wide range of conditions including, but not limited to:

  • tumours (both benign and malignant)
  • injuries and degenerative conditions of the spine and joints
  • soft tissue damage (e.g. ligaments, muscles, tendons)
  • injuries or disease of organs (e.g. brain, heart, female/male pelvis, digestive system)

An MRI scanner uses a magnetic field and radio waves to produce images of the part of your body requiring a diagnosis. The images can be both moving and still, and the high resolution provides a great level of detail.

MRI scans allow clinicians to evaluate parts of the body and to see certain diseases or conditions that may not be assessed adequately with other imaging methods such as X-rays, ultrasound or computed tomography (CT) scans.

Why is an MRI scan recommended?

MRI scans are recommended for a number of reasons, depending on whether you are waiting to be diagnosed, are going through treatment, or are having your health monitored following treatment.

MRI scans are often used for diagnosing a range of medical conditions, from brain tumours and spinal cord injuries to joint disorders and abdominal or pelvic abnormalities.

If you have been diagnosed with a condition such as cancer, MRI scans provide detailed information about your health. The results of MRI scans can help doctors to plan for surgery, radiation therapies and other treatments.

For some conditions or illnesses, you may need multiple MRI scans at regular intervals to monitor the effectiveness of treatments and to track progression of the disease.

Different types of MRI scans are recommended for different parts of your body. If you need a detailed scan of your heart, you may be recommended a cardiac MRI scan (also called a CMR scan) which shows detailed images of your heart, as well as the surrounding blood vessels.

How to prepare for an MRI scan

Before visiting us for your MRI scan, you will be asked to remove any metal items from your person, such as jewellery, hearing aids and dentures. You will need to wear a hospital gown during your scan, in order to prevent any metal items on clothes, such as zips, from interfering with the magnets used in the scan.

If you have any metal plates or screws from previous surgery, or any implanted devices such as a pacemaker, it’s important to inform our medical team. These items can be affected during the MRI scan, so please highlight this during the booking process.

Additionally, if you’re pregnant or think you might be pregnant, please let us know as soon as possible. MRI scans are generally avoided during pregnancy, unless deemed absolutely necessary, and we will not perform them during the first trimester.

On the day of your MRI scan, you should eat and drink as usual, unless our team give you alternative instructions. Depending on the type of MRI scan you are having, you may need to avoid food and drink for a few hours before the scan, but the team will advise you further if this applies to you.

How is an MRI scan carried out?

Some MRI scans require an injection of contrast agent, which is a type of dye that makes tissues and blood vessels show up in better detail on the scan. However, not all MRI scans will need this injection, so our team will advise you further if this applies to you.

An MRI scanner is a short tube-shaped machine which is open at both ends, with a bed that slides through the middle of the tube. Depending on which part of your body is being scanned, you will enter the machine either head or feet first.

The machine is about 4 feet (120cm) long and the area of your body being scanned is positioned in the centre of the machine. We have a wide-bore MRI machine, meaning that the tube-like opening area is wider than that of traditional MRI machines. This makes it more comfortable for you during the scan. The weight limit of the machine is 250 kilograms.

The scanning technician will ensure that you are positioned correctly and comfortably and, depending on the type of MRI scan, they may also provide you with headphones to listen to music, or earplugs to minimise the buzzing noise of the machine. It is important that you feel comfortable inside the scanner so that you can remain still for the duration of the scan, to ensure that none of the images are blurry from movement. If you feel uncomfortable or concerned at any point, you can ask to have a break or to stop the scan.

Once the scanning technician has produced all the required images, the bed will slide out from the machine and you will be free to go home.

Are MRI scans safe?

MRI scans are painless and completely safe. Over the years, extensive research has been conducted looking into the magnetic fields and radio waves used in MRI scans. No evidence has been found to suggest that there is a risk, and MRI scans are thought to be one of the safest types of scans.

Although MRI scans are completely safe, some people with claustrophobia may struggle to feel comfortable. If you find small spaces difficult, please speak to our team who will do their best to accommodate your needs. Most people with claustrophobia are able to complete the scan with support from the scanning technician. If you are feeling very anxious about the scan, you can ask your referring consultant or GP to prescribe you a mild sedative.

How long does an MRI scan take?

The duration of an MRI scan can vary depending on which area is being examined. For example, a standard heart MRI takes around 45 to 60 minutes, while a chest scan can take 30 to 45 minutes. Generally, it typically takes between 30 minutes and an hour for an MRI scan to be completed.

MRI scan results

The report containing your MRI scan results will be available within the next 2 working days. Your doctor will discuss the results with you at your next appointment, and these results will help to give you a diagnosis, or to inform future treatment options.

Cost of an MRI scan

The cost of an MRI scan at Wimpole Street Consulting Rooms and Diagnostic Centre varies depending on which body part is being scanned, how large the area being scanned is, and whether you require special measures such as a contrast agent.

Prices start from £844 and range up to £2,682.

Prices for cardiac MRI scans can be seen separately here.