What to Expect During an MRI Scan for Multiple Sclerosis

Be prepared and relaxed for your MRI.

Patient about to have MRI examination
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An MRI scan is the most important test for diagnosing and monitoring multiple sclerosis (MS). The test does not hurt, but it can be a strange experience.

Knowing what to expect during an MRI will help make the experience itself less stressful.

What to Expect Prior to Your MRI

  • You will be asked to complete a questionnaire, which asks about any metal which you might have in your body, including screws, cochlear implants, artificial joints, etc.
  • You will be asked to take off anything metal, which includes any jewelry and bras, which usually have metal clasps at the back.
  • You may be allowed to leave your clothes (if there are no metal zippers, snaps or buttons) on or be asked to change into a hospital gown.
  • An IV may be inserted at this point for gadolinium (contrast material) administration later -- contrast is given through the vein but is not always prescribed for every MRI
  • If you are claustrophobic, or very scared of the procedure itself, do not be afraid to ask for a sedative. Usually, this will need to be prescribed prior to the MRI itself, so be sure to talk with your neurologist.
  • You will probably be given earplugs

What To Expect When You Enter The MRI Scanning Room

  • You will be taken into the MRI room and asked to lay on the table, which is fairly narrow and hard and slides out from the machine. Some centers allow a friend to stay with you.
  • If you are cold, ask for a blanket (which you will probably want to remove later, as it can get warm in the machine).
  • The technician will often ask you if you would like music to be played during the scan. This can drown out any loud noises and help you relax.
  • If your doctor has ordered a scan of your brain at this point, cushioned pads will be positioned on either side of your head to keep it still. A “surface coil” which resembles a plastic cage will be fit around your head. This will be sometimes be removed for the scan of your spine.
  • Once you are comfortable, the technician will leave the room, but will constantly communicate with you through a microphone. The technician will slide the table into the machine before he leaves the room.

What to Expect During the MRI

  • The technician will tell you how long each sequence will last. For instance, he might start by saying, “This part should take about 2 minutes.” Usually, they last between 20 seconds and 3 minutes.
  • The machine itself makes a very loud banging or clanging sound for the duration of that sequence. You may also experience some vibration. After that sequence, there will be a short break of 5 or 10 seconds, and then the technician will tell you how long the next sequence will last.
  • A little over halfway through the procedure, the gadolinium (if it is being used) will be injected, either with a syringe or into the IV that has been inserted for this purpose. It usually feels a little cold and may sting slightly, but only for a brief moment.

How Long Does an MRI Last?

The duration of the entire test depends on two main factors:

  • What is being scanned—the brain, the whole spine, parts of the spine or everything
  • If the scan will be done with gadolinium (contrast material, which is used to determine if a lesion is “active”, meaning you are having a relapse, as opposed to having symptoms from a lesion that is no longer active).

    Depending on these factors, the test could be as short as 15 minutes or as long as 2 hours.

    A Word From Verywell

    Feeling a bit nervous before your MRI is normal. It can be a somewhat surreal experience and waiting for the results can be distressing as well. The good news is that after the scan, you can move on with your day as normal (unless you have been sedated, in which case you will need someone to drive you home, so you can rest).

    A final tidbit regarding MRI results is to ask the MRI location if you can have a copy of the images. This CD may come in handy if your doctor needs to compare MRI findings or if you ever seek a second opinion.

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