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MRI Pro Tips

By Matt Cavallo

A scheduler from my MRI provider recently called to book my next appointment. She said I had very particular scheduling requests so I responded that I am an MRI pro. She laughed and asked what made me a pro at MRIs. I replied that I’ve had more than 30 MRIs in the past 15 years. She agreed with my “pro status” and then understood why I wanted my scheduling a certain way.

The reason I am so particular is because the MRI experience can be a harrowing one, especially for someone who has never had one before. Because an MRI is a tube and the ceiling is close to your face, it can spark claustrophobic feelings for some. Also, you must stay as still as possible to ensure the best possible images. Moving during the image sequence can cause the need for the sequence to be restarted. I don’t know about you, but as soon as the radiologist tells me not to move my nose begins to itch, and I spend the whole time wanting to scratch it. 

When a person is having difficulties with the MRI procedure, it can cause delays for all of the following appointments. I have learned this the hard way. So, here are some tips I’ve learned that should help you have an improved MRI experience. 

Try to schedule the first appointment of day or the first appointment after lunch. MRI facilities usually have a limited number of machines. Because of this, any delay in the room where you’ll be seen can result in long delays to your appointment. Scheduling the first appointment of the day, or the first after lunch, ensures you will be in and out with no delays. Don’t be afraid to ask when their lunch time is. A lot of offices close during lunch and that time is posted. Schedulers know this information and will provide it if asked.

Schedule far in advance. If you know you’ll have an MRI every six months, schedule the next one as far in advance as they’ll let you. As a note here, if you need contrast then the radiologist must be present for your appointment. Often times they’ll tell you if you schedule in advance, then they won’t know who is working that day. Tell them that is okay and try to schedule on a day and time when the radiologist typically is working. They will call you if they need to change the appointment for any reason, so it is better to block the time on the calendar and ensure you get the appointment you want.

Fill out forms online if possible. The intake forms for each appointment take about 15 minutes to fill out. It is much easier to complete the forms at home electronically than to complete them at the facility. 

Wear comfortable clothes and leave jewelry at home. When you check into your MRI, you will have to put your valuables in a locker. I like to leave everything at home that I don’t need. I also dress in comfy clothes because I know I am going to be laying in the tube for a while. They provide a blanket, but it is typically pretty cool in the MRI room, so I usually wear long pants.

Use lotion on your arms if you think you’ll need contrast. The gadolinium dye used for contrast requires an injection. To ensure the tech can easily insert the needle, I use lotion before the appointment so they can easily insert the needle. I also try to stay hydrated, but not too hydrated, because I don’t want to need to go to bathroom and be uncomfortable during the appointment.

Relax. The toughest thing about the MRI is the tight fit. The ceiling is less than 12 inches from your face. The machine is also noisy and it gets louder for certain tests. The tech will give you earplugs and may have some music for you to listen to. You might feel claustrophobic and experience psychosomatic symptoms such as itching. They give you a squeeze ball to stop the test if you become too nervous. The tech will also communicate with you in between tests and inform you how long each test will be. I try to close my eyes and relax. I know the more I am able to stay still and relaxed the faster the exam will be over.