When ordering an MRI, a doctor may choose to have one with or without contrast. In some cases, contrast is needed to show a clearer picture of the area. When this happens, a dye is intravenously inserted into the body. Which type of scan you have depends largely on exactly why you are having the scan.
The procedure for having an MRI is the same for ones with and without contrast. When you arrive, you will be asked to remove all metal objects and to leave keys and credit cards outside of the room. The technician will ask several questions about your health and, in some cases, will attach blood pressure cups and other monitoring equipment to you. You will be asked about any surgeries or injuries that may have left metal (such as a pacemaker) in your body. After all of the medical history is taken, you will need to climb onto the table where the person performing the test will make you as comfortable as possible. A blanket may be offered, as well as ear phones with music to cover the noise of the machine. If you require the contrast, the dye will be injected into an IV, probably near your wrist. With the dye, you may feel a little burning sensation or slight prick at the injection site. Some people have reported a need to urinate, but this is typically due to nerves and not the dye itself. An allergic reaction is possible to the dye. Usually, this is mild and can be treated easily.
Depending on the area to be scanned, radio-wave transmitters will be positioned on the body. For a head and neck scan, a helmet type hat is worn. For the chest, spine, and abdomen, you will be lying on the transmitters. If a specific joint needs an image, the transmitters are attached directly to the joint. When everything is ready, the technician will leave the room, but will be able to monitor you through a window. The table you are lying on will slowly move into the machine. You will be asked to stay as still as possible and may even need to hold your breath at times if the MRI is of your abdomen.
The contrast dye is used to enhance images from the MRI. When the doctor is searching for answers to health concerns, the contrast may help find those answers faster. If a person has a history of tumors or cancer, the contrast is usually used as new problems will show up clearer. Also, if the doctor is looking for the cause of an infection, dye is used to narrow down what may be causing the problems. If a problem was found with an MRI without contrast, the dye can be used to determine a clearer picture of what may be happening. Usually, the contrast is injected after a few pre-contrast scans have been taken.
When preparing for an MRI, ask your doctor any questions you may have. The more you know, the less anxious you will be about the procedure. Worry and anxiety will cause more problems than having the MRI done.
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