MRI (Magnetic Resonance Scanner) FAQs

What is a MRI scan?

MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) is an imaging modality used to produce high quality images of the body, without the use of x-rays. Instead, it uses a strong magnetic field, radio waves, and a computer to produce acurrate, detailed 3D images of organs and tissues to diagnosis a variety of medical conditions. At Washington Health System Washington Hospital, registered MRI technologists perform these examinations. Board Certified Radiologists, who specialize in this type of imaging, will then interpret the exam.


What are some reasons an MRI exam is performed?

MRI is the most sensitive imaging exam for spinal and joint problems. It gives clear images of soft tissue structures near and around the bones. In sports related injuries, the MRI images allow the radiologist to see very small tears and injuries to ligaments and muscles. Chest, abdomen and abdominal vessels can also be imaged with MRI. MRI of the heart, aorta and coronary arteries is a non-invasive tool for diagnosing coronary artery disease and heart problems.


What kind of MRI scanner will be used for my exam?

Washington Health System utilizes two Siemens MRI scanners, which are the most advanced systems available today. Our 1.5Topen bore scanner is designed for the person that is claustrophobic because there is more headroom and elbowroom than a conventional MRI unit. For the majority of exams, your feet go in first and your head remains outside the scanner. The table lowers to 18 inches for easy access on and off. Our 1.5T short bore scanner gives the ability of whole body scanning (multi region exams) without patient reposition. We are able to offer advanced heart and vascular imaging. In addition, the open bore MRI can accommodate patients weighing up to 550 pounds.


Will I experience claustrophobia?

Claustrophobia is defined as the fear of confined spaces. Washington Health System has an “open bore” and “short bore” MRI scanner, which means they are wider and shorter (similar to the CT scanner) and does not completely enclose the patient, making it more patient-friendly. There is constant communication between the patient and technologist via an intercom system.


What are the hours of operation?

Washington Health System Washington Hospital performs MRI exams for outpatients at the hospital Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m..


Do I need an appointment?

Yes, you or your physician may call (724) 250-4300 to schedule your exam.


Do I need a referral or prescription to have a MRI examination?

A prescription is necessary for you to have the exam. If you do not have a prescription or your doctor has not sent one to the hospital, your MRI exam may be delayed.


How do I prepare for the scan?
  • Please wear clothing that has no metal fasteners (zipper, snaps, or hooks) or you may be asked to put on a gown.
  • Follow daily routine and take medications as usual.

  • Remove all jewelry and accessories. These items include: jewelry, watches, hearing aids, credit cards, pins, hairpins, barrettes, removable dental work, pens, pocket knives, eyeglasses, coins, purse, wallet, keys

  • Women should inform the technologist if they are pregnant and/or breastfeeding.
  • If you are claustrophobic (fear of enclosed spaces), you may want to ask your doctor for a prescription for a mild sedative.


Prior to your scheduled exam, an MRI assistant will call and ask you a few questions about your health history. This “screening” is to make sure that there is not any health risks associated with you being inside of the magnet. This “screening” process is done once again after you have arrived for your exam. At this time, you will also be pre-registered for your test to expedite the registration process when you arrive for your exam.


If you have had a history of metal in your eyes, you may have to have an x-ray of your eyes done prior to your MRI.


Is the scanner noisy?

You may hear thumping, knocking, or humming sounds from the scanner. These sounds indicate your scan is in progress. We will provide earplugs or headphones during the scan to mask the noise. Feel free to bring a music CD to listen to while your scan is being done.


Who may not be able to have an MRI?

Patients who have the following medical conditions may not be able to have an MRI:

  • A cardiac pacemaker, the pacemaker may not function in the magnetic field of the scanner.
  • A catheter that has metal components may create a burn injury.
  • A medication pump – insulin, etc.
  • A cochlear implant

Most of the new surgical metal implants are made of a high quality stainless steel that is non-magnetic. If you have any information about anything implanted in your body, please have it available during your screening.


What happens during the scan?

You will be positioned on the MRI table. The technologist will operate the scanner from an adjoining room. You will need to lie still for periods of 3-10 minutes at a time, while a series of images are collected. You will not feel anything during the scan, but you may hear loud clicking noises during the test as the scanning proceeds. We will provide earplugs or headphones during the scan to mask the noise. You can breathe freely for most of the MRI exam. Occasionally, an injection of an intravenous contrast is required to enhance the images. Your exam will last between 30 and 60 minutes depending on the area of the body studied.


What is MR angiography (MRA)?

It is an MRI study of the blood vessels. It is a painless and noninvasive exam. Detailed images of the blood vessels are produced without using ionizing radiation. It will detect abnormalities such as aneurysms, atherosclerosis, arterial disease, renal disease, etc.


MR angiography is used to examine the blood vessels in the following parts of the body:

  • Head
  • Neck
  • Spinal canal
  • Arms
  • Legs
  • Abdomen (kidney)
  • Abdominal aorta
  • Chest
  • Pelvis


What is contrast?

Contrast is the term used for the material that is injected intravenously into a vein in your arm or hand. It is used to enhance the visibility of certain tissues or blood vessels. Anyone needing the intravenous contrast will be screened for the presence of pre-existing kidney disease or dialysis. You may be instructed to have lab work prior to having your MRI or MRA exam. Few adverse reactions are reported with MRI contrast.


What are the benefits?
  • Non invasive procedure
  • No ionizing radiation
  • Provides detailed accuracy in detecting tiny changes of structures within the body
  • Provides detailed cardiac and vascular imaging


How do I get the results?

The radiologist will review the images and a signed report will be sent to the requesting physician within a few days. Urgent results will be called immediately to your doctor.


Any questions?

Please call Washington Health System Washington Hospital MRI Department at (724) 223-3319 or (724) 223-3318.