Here’s What to Expect Before, During, and After an MRI Scan, SELF

Here’s What to Expect Before, During, and After an MRI

Getting an MRI scan probably doesn’t top your list of ways to spend your free time, unless you like lying in tubes that make loud and mystifying noises. Can’t relate!

Unfortunately, sometimes getting an MRI (which stands for magnetic resonance imaging) is just a medically necessary evil. In that case, you’ll have to schlep over to your local radiology clinic or hospital to spend some quality time inside a machine that lets doctors see what’s up inside your body. If the thought sends shivers down your spine, there’s some good news: MRIs often aren’t as scary as they seem.

When you’re inside an MRI machine, its magnetic field temporarily realigns hydrogen atoms in your body, according to the Mayo Clinic. Radio waves make these atoms create very faint signals—and those are used to make cross-sectional images. Those images are layered on top of each other to give doctors a really good view of the inside of your body that they can see from different angles.

Doctors will often turn to an MRI when they suspect you have an injury or illness that an X-ray, CT scan, or ultrasound won’t pick up, Mina Makary, M.D., chief diagnostic radiology resident at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, tells SELF. “It provides excellent anatomical detail of the soft tissues, which is helpful for the evaluation of specific conditions,” he explains.

There is a huge range of issues an MRI can spot, including disk abnormalities in your spine, joint problems, tumors in various organs like your kidneys and ovaries, structural problems in your heart, and brain injuries, according to the Mayo Clinic.

In most cases, you’ll make an appointment to have your scan done and just show up with zero prep work, Kerry L. Thomas, M.D., a radiologist at Moffitt Cancer Center, tells SELF. But if you’re undergoing a pelvic or abdominal MRI, your doctor may ask you to avoid eating or drinking for a few hours beforehand. Skipping food and beverages for a bit will improve the image quality by causing less movement in your gastrointestinal tract, Bachir Taouli, M.D., a professor of radiology and director of body MRI at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, tells SELF.

If you have tattoos, the Mayo Clinic advises asking your doctor whether they might impact your test results, since some darker inks can contain metal. “The most important part of having an MRI is that you do not have any metal on for your scan,” Dr. Thomas says. “The machine is very a strong magnet, and metals can cause problems.”

It’s also important to tell your doctor if you’re pregnant or think you may be pregnant. Medical experts don’t understand the effects of magnetic fields on fetuses, and your doctor may recommend using an alternative test or postponing the MRI until after you give birth, the Mayo Clinic says.

Once you arrive at the appointment, you’ll need to remove all metal you might be wearing, like rings, earrings, or glasses and fill out a checklist to make sure you don’t have metal inside your body, like an artificial heart valve, pacemaker, or cochlear implants. Your doctor may also ask if you have a copper IUD (sold under the brand name ParaGard), since copper is a metal. While it’s safe to get an MRI when you have a copper IUD, the prescribing information recommends doing it at what’s known as 1.5 Tesla (the unit used to measure MRI strength), which isn’t as powerful as the 3.0 Tesla often used for MRIs, Dr. Taouli says. This is to avoid the (very minimal) chance of the magnet affecting the metal in the IUD.

In some cases, your doctor will want to perform an MRI with contrast, which means you’ll be injected with a contrasting agent like gadolinium right before your MRI. Gadolinium lights up when you get a scan and can help doctors get a better look at your brain, heart, and blood vessels. This can aid them in making a diagnosis of things like cancer or an inflammatory condition like multiple sclerosis, Suresh Mukherji, M.D., chairman of the department of radiology at Michigan State University, tells SELF. The American College of Radiology notes that the use of contrast agents is “not completely devoid of risk,” pointing out that some people may have side effects ranging from minor discomfort to “rare severe life-threatening situations.” According to the ACR, the adverse event rate for gadolinium-based contrast media (GBCM) ranges from 0.07 percent to 2.4 percent, which includes mild reactions (like coldness or warmth, headache, nausea) to more severe allergic-like reactions.

The ACR notes that millions of MRIs are done with contrast every year without issues. Allergic-like reactions and severe life-threatening anaphylactic reactions are uncommon, but can happen in less than 1 percent of cases, according to the ACR.

Some people also worry about after-effects. The ACR notes that residual gadolinium was recently found in the brain tissue of people who received multiple gadolinium-based contrasts in the past. The Food and Drug Administration also released a safety alert stating that the brain can retain gadolinium deposits, but also said it found no evidence that this is harmful. Ultimately, the FDA says that the benefits of an MRI with contrast exceed the potential risks.

If you’re nervous about having an MRI with contrast, talk to your doctor about why they requested this particular test and whether you have other options.

The machine will typically be long and tube-shaped with one or two open ends, though newer “open” MRI machines may not be closed on the sides. An MRI technician will ask you to lie down on a table and will often hand you a headset to put on before the actual test gets started. “Patients are given a headset to allow for communication during the MRI scan,” Dr. Taouli explains.

When it’s time for your test to begin, the technician will go behind a partition and the platform you’re lying on will move into the MRI machine. The table you’re on might move you around to allow for better imaging, but you’ll typically need to keep your body as motionless as possible during your exam. “It is critical to lie still during an MRI examination as any movement can disrupt the images being formed, and the exam will need to be repeated,” Dr. Makary says. The only exception is during a functional MRI, when the technician might ask you to perform small tasks like tapping your thumb against your fingers to see how your brain works, according to the Mayo Clinic.

While there’s some variation depending on your injury or illness, MRIs can take anywhere from 15 minutes to over an hour, according to the Mayo Clinic. That’s a lot of time to be amped up with anxiety, so there are a few steps you can take to stay calm.

During your MRI, you’ll hear really loud noises like thumping and tapping as the machine goes to work. If you already know that’s going to freak you out, you can ask for earplugs. The MRI technician may also be able to play music through the headset you’re wearing, so you can ask if this is a possibility when setting up your scan. You might also want to ask if you’ll be able to use an “open” MRI machine rather than one closed at the sides, or at least one that’s newer and might be roomier than past models.

Even though the inside of newer MRI machines aren’t exactly palatial, they’re better than they used to be. Older MRI machines had ceilings that were very close to a person’s face and head, making it easy to feel claustrophobic during your scan, according to the USCF Department of Radiology & Biomedical Imaging. The tunnels in newer MRI machines are bigger and, while you still might feel a little claustrophobic, you have more space than you would have in the past.

Guide to Tick-Borne Diseases

They’re Out for Blood

Ticks survive by biting into an animal — or you — and sucking blood. These bitesВ can infect you with bacteria, viruses, or parasites they carry. Most don’t lead to disease. But if you’ve been bitten, you’ll want to keep an eye out for symptoms of the illnesses they can spread.

Lyme Disease

This is the most common tick-borne illness in the U.S. The CDC says there’ve been around 300,000 cases a year in recent years. The bacteria that causes it attacks your nervous system and possibly your heart, liver, eyes, and joints as well. Ticks that carry this disease live mostly in the Northeast and Upper Midwest. More than 95% of reported cases of Lyme disease were in those areas. (It gets its name from the town of Lyme, CT.)

Lyme Disease Symptoms

At first you may feel like you have the flu — fever, chills, a headache, and joint or muscle pain. You also may notice a skin rash that starts near the tick bite anywhere from 3 to 30 days later. As the rash gets bigger, the middle often clears and a red ring shows up around the outside, leaving a “bull’s-eye” look. About 60% of people who have it get this rash.

Lyme Disease Treatment

If you’re in an area where the disease is common and find a tick on you, call a doctor right away, especially if the tick is fat. An antibiotic can keep you from getting Lyme disease if you take it within 72 hours of the bite. If you get the disease, your doctor will prescribe a longer antibiotics course. Most people fully recover, but symptoms can last more than 6 months. If it’s not treated, you may get numbness in your arms or legs, or paralysis on one side of your face.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

This bacterial infection hits fewer than 3,000 people a year — and if it’s not found early, it can cause serious illness and long-term health problems. Symptoms usually show up 2 days to 2 weeks after a tick bite. It causes fever, headaches, vomiting, stomach pain, red eyes, and sore muscles. Most people also get a red splotchy rash that starts on their ankles or wrists. It usually shows up several days after other symptoms.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever Treatment

Doctors prescribe the antibiotic doxycycline for this illness. The CDC recommends you take it as soon as possible if your doctor thinks you have it. It works best if you start it in the first 5 days after your symptoms show up. Despite the name, Rocky Mountain spotted fever happens in every state except Alaska, Hawaii, and Maine. But it happens most often in the Midwest and Southeast.


This virus is named after the town in Canada where it was first found in 1958. Fewer than 80 people have had it in the past decade — mostly in the Northeast and Great Lakes areas. It attacks your brain and the tissue around it and causes inflammation. Symptoms can include headaches, fever, and vomiting, along with confusion, loss of coordination, and seizures. They can show up anywhere from a week to a month after you’ve been bitten.

Powassan Diagnosis and Treatment

If your doctor thinks you might have it, he’ll test your blood and spinal fluid for certain proteins called antibodies that your immune system makes to fight off infection. There are no medicines to treat it. If it’s severe, you may need to stay in the hospital, where you’ll have help breathing if you need it. Your doctor also may give you medicine to ease the swelling in your brain. It can cause lasting nerve damage.

Tick Paralysis

This illness isn’t caused by a bacteria or virus, but by what doctors believe is a poison in a tick’s saliva. It happens most often in the Rocky Mountains and northwestern states, as well as western Canada. It makes your muscles go slack as it spreads through your body, and it’s sometimes mistaken for other illnesses. It usually clears up once the tick that bit you is found and taken off.


This bacterial infection is carried by the same type of tick that carries Lyme disease. The bacteria attacks white blood cells, which fight disease in your body. It makes you very tired and also В causes fever, chills, muscle aches, headaches, and stomach pain. Symptoms usually show up 1 to 3 weeks after a tick bite. About 1,800 people get anaplasmosis each year, mostly in the Northeast and Upper Midwest. It’s treated with doxycycline.


This tick-borne disease is related to anaplasmosis, but it’s carried by the lone star tick. Most cases are found in southeastern and south-central states. Symptoms include fever, headache, nausea, and belly pain. You also might have a cough, diarrhea, and a rash. These signs usually show up 1 to 2 weeks after a person is bitten. It’s also treated with doxycycline.


This tick-borne disease is sometimes called rabbit fever because it affects rabbits and rodents. There were only 314 human cases in the U.S. in 2015, but it’s very contagious and can be life-threatening if it’s not treated. It causes skin ulcers, fever, and swelling in glands called lymph nodes. Most people recover after taking antibiotics, but symptoms can last for weeks. It’s been reported in every U.S. state but Hawaii, but most cases are in the south-central U.S.


While most tick-borne diseases are caused by bacteria, this is a parasite that attacks your red blood cells. It can feel like the flu and can cause low blood pressure, anemia, and liver or kidney problems. It’s spread by deer ticks and usually happens in adults. Fewer than 1,800 people got babesiosis in 2013, most of them in the Northeast and Upper Midwest. It’s usually treated with a mix of anti-parasitic drugs and antibiotics.

Keep Safe

The best way to prevent a tick-borne disease is to not get bitten by a tick. They like to live in grass, bushes, or leaf piles. They grab onto you as you walk by, find bare skin, and dig in. When you’re outdoors:

  • Stay away from tall bushes or grass and stick to the middle of a trail.
  • Use bug repellents (like DEET).
  • Wear long pants, and tuck them into white socks so you can see ticks.
  • Look carefully for ticks when you get back inside. If you find one that hasn’t latched on, you aren’t at risk for any of these infections.

How to Take Off a Tick

If one has latched onto you, remove it with tweezers. Grab the tick as close to your skin as possible and pull up slowly and steadily. Don’t jerk it loose — some mouth parts may break off and stay in your skin. Once it’s off, dunk it in alcohol, wrap it in tape, or flush it down the toilet to kill it. Don’t crush a tick with your fingers. В If you handle a tick, wash your hands with alcohol or soap and water.

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National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Georgia Department of Public Health.

Minnesota Department of Public Health.

Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

Columbia University Medical Center, Lyme and Tick-Borne Disease Research Center.

American Family Physician: «Tick-borne disease.»

Yale School of Public Health: “The Rise of Powassan Virus.”

Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases: “Powassan Virus: An Emerging Arbovirus of Public Health Concern in North America.”

Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report: “Cluster of Tick Paralysis Cases — Colorado, 2006.”

Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report: “Tick Paralysis — Washington, 1995.”

Reviewed by Nayana Ambardekar, MD on September 08, 2019

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

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Hepatitis is the term used to describe inflammation of the liver. It’s usually the result of a viral infection or liver damage caused by drinking alcohol.

There are several different types of hepatitis, most of which are outlined below.

Some types will pass without any serious problems, while others can be long-lasting (chronic) and cause scarring of the liver (cirrhosis), loss of liver function and, in some cases, liver cancer.

Coronavirus advice

Symptoms of hepatitis

Short-term (acute) hepatitis often has no noticeable symptoms, so you may not realise you have it.

If symptoms do develop, they can include:

See your GP if you have any persistent or troublesome symptoms that you think could be caused by hepatitis.

Long-term (chronic) hepatitis also may not have any obvious symptoms until the liver stops working properly (liver failure) and may only be picked up during blood tests.

In the later stages it can cause jaundice, swelling in the legs, ankles and feet, confusion, and blood in your stools or vomit.

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is caused by the hepatitis A virus. It’s usually caught by consuming food and drink contaminated with the poo of an infected person, and is most common in countries where sanitation is poor.

Hepatitis A usually passes within a few months, although it can occasionally be severe and even life threatening.

There’s no specific treatment for it, other than to relieve symptoms like pain, nausea and itching.

Vaccination against hepatitis A is recommended if:

  • you’re at high risk of infection or severe consequences of infection
  • you’re travelling to an area where the virus is common, such as the Indian subcontinent, Africa, Central and South America, the Far East and eastern Europe.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is caused by the hepatitis B virus, which is spread in the blood of an infected person.

It’s a common infection worldwide and is usually spread from infected pregnant women to their babies, or from child-to-child contact.

In rare cases, it can be spread through unprotected sex and injecting drugs.

Hepatitis B is uncommon in the UK. Most cases affect people who became infected while growing up in part of the world where the infection is more common, such as southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

Most adults infected with hepatitis B are able to fight off the virus and fully recover from the infection within a couple of months.

But most people infected as children develop a long-term infection. This is known as chronic hepatitis B, and can lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer. Antiviral medication can be used to treat it.

In the UK, vaccination against hepatitis B is recommended for people in high-risk groups, such as:

  • healthcare workers
  • people who inject drugs
  • men who have sex with men
  • children born to mothers with hepatitis B
  • people travelling to parts of the world where the infection is more common

In 2017, the hepatitis B vaccine was added to the routine immunisation programme so all children can benefit from protection from this virus.

Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is caused by the hepatitis C virus and is the most common type of viral hepatitis in the UK.

It’s usually spread through blood-to-blood contact with an infected person.

In the UK, it’s most commonly spread through sharing needles used to inject drugs.

Poor healthcare practices and unsafe medical injections are the main way it’s spread outside the UK.

Hepatitis C often causes no noticeable symptoms, or only flu-like symptoms, so many people are unaware they’re infected.

Around 1 in 4 people will fight off the infection and be free of the virus. In the remaining cases, it’ll stay in the body for many years.

This is known as chronic hepatitis C and can cause cirrhosis and liver failure.

Chronic hepatitis C can be treated with very effective antiviral medications, but there’s currently no vaccine available.

Hepatitis D

Hepatitis D is caused by the hepatitis D virus. It only affects people who are already infected with hepatitis B, as it needs the hepatitis B virus to be able to survive in the body.

Hepatitis D is usually spread through blood-to-blood contact or sexual contact. It’s uncommon in the UK, but is more widespread in other parts of Europe, the Middle East, Africa and South America.

Long-term infection with hepatitis D and hepatitis B can increase your risk of developing serious problems, such as cirrhosis and liver cancer.

There’s no vaccine specifically for hepatitis D, but the hepatitis B vaccine can help protect you from it.

Hepatitis E

Hepatitis E is caused by the hepatitis E virus. The number of cases in Europe has increased in recent years and it’s now the most common cause of short-term (acute) hepatitis in the UK.

The virus has been mainly associated with the consumption of raw or undercooked pork meat or offal, but also with wild boar meat, venison and shellfish.

Hepatitis E is generally a mild and short-term infection that does not require any treatment, but it can be serious in some people, such as those who have a weakened immune system.

There’s no vaccine for hepatitis E. When travelling to parts of the world with poor sanitation, where epidemic hepatitis E may be common, you can reduce your risk by practising good food and water hygiene measures.

The British Liver Trust has more information about hepatitis E.

Alcoholic hepatitis

Alcoholic hepatitis is a type of hepatitis caused by drinking excessive amounts of alcohol over many years.

The condition is common in the UK and many people do not realise they have it.

This is because it does not usually cause any symptoms, although it can cause sudden jaundice and liver failure in some people.

Stopping drinking will usually allow your liver to recover, but there’s a risk you could eventually develop cirrhosis, liver failure or liver cancer if you continue to drink alcohol excessively.

You can reduce your risk of developing alcoholic hepatitis by controlling how much you drink.

It’s recommended that you do not regularly drink more than 14 units of alcohol a week.

Autoimmune hepatitis

Autoimmune hepatitis is a rare cause of long-term hepatitis in which the immune system attacks and damages the liver.

Eventually, the liver can become so damaged that it stops working properly.

Treatment for autoimmune hepatitis involves very effective medicines that suppress the immune system and reduce inflammation.

It’s not clear what causes autoimmune hepatitis and it’s not known whether anything can be done to prevent it.

The British Liver Trust has more information about autoimmune hepatitis.

Page last reviewed: 4 February 2019
Next review due: 4 February 2022

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