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If you have Multiple Sclerosis, you are quite likely to need an MRI scan at some point. But what is it, what does it do and most importantly what is it like to have an MRI scan? Read on to learn about this medical imaging technique.
What is an MRI scan?
MRI stands for Magnetic Resonance Imaging. It’s a medical imaging technique that uses strong magnets and avoids exposing the patient to radiation (which we know is bad in large amounts). It is used in medical diagnosis of many conditions such as MS as it can provide images of the body’s organs.
Neurologists like to use an MRI scan to see if there are lesions in the brain and spinal cord of MS patients. And they track if these increase in number whilst patients take their disease modifying treatments. They are also used in other medical conditions where the other imaging techniques are not giving a clear diagnosis.
Aside from the dreaded lumbar puncture, the MRI may be the most feared thing in the diagnosis and treatment of multiple sclerosis. Particularly for those who suffer from claustrophobia. This is because the MRI machine is basically a small tube you lay down in, in a room all by yourself, and have a lot of very loud sounds thrown at you. For those who cannot stand the confined space, most places can offer an MRI with sedation. This is an option I’ve known a few MSers to use, so don’t be afraid to ask for this option if you need it.
Having your MRI scan
When you get to your MRI scan, you will have to fill out a questionnaire (if it hasn’t already been sent in), asking questions about potential metal in your body. You’ll then be asked to put on a hospital gown. And you will be called upon when it’s time for your scan. Which is never EVER on time. If a patient moves during their scan, that sequence needs to be redone, so they do love patients that can keep still for their time and keep them more to time for others.
You’ll lie down on the sliding table that goes into the tunnel and will be handed an alert button for if you are having troubles during the scan and need to get out. Different pieces of equipment may be slotted in around you, to help keep you still, and keep you comfortable during the time (my last scan was about an hour and a half long for brain and spine). You may be given head phones, and the option to listen to music…but in all honesty I’ve never been able to hear any of the music during the scan…just the breaks in between. At some point you may also need a contrast injection, depending on what your specialist has ordered. I know neurologist seem to like this to see if there are new active lesions.
Be prepared for lots of loud banging sounds, like a jack hammer digging up cement right outside your bedroom window. Sequences can range from around 1 minute to about 8 minutes in all the scans I’ve had. The best places will even let you know how long the next one will be, so you get a bit of a breathing (or twitching) space in between. I find that I also get a lot of numbness in my arm holding the emergency alert button. Fortunately I’ve never had to test if my hand will work in that numb state.
And then it will be over. The silence after the scan can seem eerie after such a long period of loud noise. And it’s a relief to feel the table slide back out of the tube and there be someone there to help get you up. It seems that these days most MRI scan results and reports are sent straight to the doctor, so you don’t even have to wait around for the scan to be printed up. Be sure to follow up with your specialist for results of your scan. And that’s pretty much it. Until your next MRI is needed.