Testing 2: MRI Scans
Last time, I spoke about my experience of CT scans. This time it is the turn of MRI scans.
As defined by the NHS
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a type of scan that uses strong magnetic fields and radio waves to produce detailed images of the inside of the body. An MRI scanner is a large tube that contains powerful magnets. You lie inside the tube during the scan. An MRI scan can be used to examine almost any part of the body, including the brain and spinal cord.
Extensive research has been carried out into whether the magnetic fields and radio waves used during MRI scans could pose a risk to the human body. No evidence has been found to suggest there is a risk, which means MRI scans are one of the safest medical procedures available.
This does not mention an MRI scan is loud. Very loud.
I have learned that MRI scans play a big part in the diagnosis and ongoing checking of MS. I had two during my initial stay in hospital and have had a further two since being discharged with another due later this year.
Unlike CT scans, an MRI is an enclosed tube and, depending on the scan, can take a long time. The area being scanned will determine how far into the machine you go. My brain scans were about 30-45 minutes and only my head and shoulders were inside the machine. I also had scans of my spine which were about the same length, but I was fully inside the scanner.
A second spine scan came with contrasting dye, but at least this time there were no side effects suggested. After the CT scan dye, that was a relief!
During your time in the tube, you must remain still to produce a clear image. It is surprisingly difficult because, as soon as a scan started, I would get an itchy nose. Try keeping still with that. For a brain scan, you lie on a flat bench and your head is snugly clamped into a cradle to reduce movement. For a spine scan, I lay in a bigger cradle of cradle but had to concentrate on keeping still.
I am not claustrophobic, so I did not mind the time in the machine. I imagine if you are claustrophobic this might be an unpleasant experience. You are provided with an alarm that you can signal any discomfort to the watching radiologist who can pause the scan.
During a brain scan, the cradle has a mirror so you can see the radiologists control room. Whilst in the machine, the radiologist can talk to you and advise what is coming. Usually this is along the lines of “4 minutes of scans coming up”. You then hear a variety of loud magnetic noises.
Some machines provide headphones and music to block out the noise (choose something loud) whilst others will see you wearing earplugs. Where I did not have headphones, I found myself hearing tunes in the magnetic noises and found them oddly relaxing to the point I almost feel asleep. Look out for my album of therapeutic MRI sounds on Spotify any day now.
The actual scan is a painless process. During the longer spine scans, I got very warm inside in the machine but did not feel any discomfort during the process. Afterwards, I felt like every part of me was vibrating. Again, not painful but slightly disorienting.
The results take a while to produce and your neurologist will likely share them with you. It is slightly disconcerting to see images of your brain and eyeballs from the inside.
My initial scans showed a lesion on my brain and that formed part of the MS diagnosis. Subsequent scans since I started treatment have been encouraging and showed no new lesions have appeared. MRI scans are part of the MS care package and for me have become a routine. Subsequent scans will show progression, other otherwise, of the disease and the efficacy of any treatment.
Just lie back, close your eyes, keep still, and listen for the musical magnets.