Welcome to the Radiology Department
The radiology department may also be called the x-ray or imaging department. It is the facility in the hospital where radiological examinations of patients are carried out, using a range of x-ray equipment, such as a CT (computed tomography) scanner, an ultrasound machine and a MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scanner.
Radiologists are doctors specially trained to interpret the images and carry out more complex examinations. They are supported by radiographers who are highly trained to carry out x-rays and other imaging procedures.
Your consultant/GP has requested that you have a MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scan. We hope the following information will answer questions that you may have about this examination.
What is a MRI scan?
MRI scanners produce cross-sectional pictures through any part of the body. The magnet is a circular tube open at both ends. The information from the scanner passes to a computer that produces a picture of your internal structure. The pictures are then displayed on a computer screen in the scanning control room.
Risks, alternatives and benefits
MRI does not use any form of X-rays and so is considered to be safe. MRI is now the alternative choice for many X-ray and some operative tests.
The images produced are very detailed showing both bones and tissues.
However, it may not be possible to have a MRI scan if you have any of these:
- Cardiac pacemaker / defibrillator.
- Surgical clips in your head (particularly aneurysm clips).
- Some artificial heart valves.
- Metal fragments in your eyes.
- Electronic stimulators.
- Implanted pumps.
Let the MRI unit know well before your appointment if you have any of these. The telephone number is on your appointment letter.
Before the scan you will be asked a series of questions to check that it is safe for you to enter the scan room.
People with dental fillings and bridges, hip and knee replacements (if more than 6 weeks after operation), cardiac stents (if more than 3 months after operation) can all be scanned safely.
The Radiographers will need to know about these things to minimise the effect they have on your images.
If you are pregnant at the time of your scan appointment there is no problem in scanning you as long as you are past your first 3 months.
We avoid scanning during the first 3 months of pregnancy unless the diagnosis cannot wait and the only alternate test uses X-rays.
If you have experienced claustrophobia, or have trouble in enclosed spaces you may contact the MRI department before your appointment date to discuss it.
For mild claustrophobia, we find that we can help you to relax by talking you through the procedure.
If your claustrophobia is severe you may need a sedative prescribed by your G.P. You should not drive after taking such drugs, so arrange a safe way to get home.
Contrast injections (dye)
Most MRI tests do not need you to have an injection, but in some situations a contrast agent can greatly increase the information gained from the scan.
The contrast is injected into a vein, and the dose is quite small. If the examination is an arthrogram then the injection will be into the joint space.
MRI contrast is not the same as X-ray contrast. Very few people notice when it is injected.
Children under 16 can be accompanied at all stages of the examination by an appropriate adult. Everyone coming into the scan room will be asked the safety questions about metal and implants, and be expected to change into appropriate clothing if required.
Please be aware that there are no creche facilities for patient’s children.
What happens during the MRI scan?
- From reception you will be directed to the MRI waiting area. From here you will be taken to the MRI preparation room.
- Please try to wear clothes without any metal zips or fastening since changing facilities are limited at some of the sites. For most examinations you will need to remove your trousers because of the metal zip. Bras also need to be removed because of the clips and underwire.
- You will also have to remove any jewellery, piercings, your watch, phones, credit cards and coins (a safe space is provided in the MRI scanner area).
- It is not necessary to remove your wedding ring.
- A small team which could include a radiographer, radiologist and a helper will care for you. The radiographer will carry out the scan.
- They will assist you to lie down and make you comfortable. The couch top will then move you into the scanner.
- The radiographer will leave the room before the scan begins, but we can see you at all times from the control room. You will also be provided with a buzzer that you can press at any time which will bring the radiographers immediately into the scan room.
- The scanner will make a series of loud noises as the scans are being taken so you will be provided with ear defenders.
- You will need to lie as still as possible when instructed by the radiographer. By keeping very still during the scan you can improve the quality of the images we obtain.
- The scan will not be painful nor will you feel any discomfort. There are no side effects and you can continue as normal once you are informed that your examination is complete.
How long will it take?
You can expect to be in the MRI scanning room for anything from 20 minutes to 90 minutes. It takes 20 minutes for each area of your body that is being scanned i.e. 20 minutes if the brain is being scanned or 40 minutes if the brain and neck are being scanned.
While we will endeavour to ensure you are seen at your appointed time sometimes emergencies may have to take priority. We ask for your patience and understanding should this happen. If there is a delay you will be kept informed.
How will I get the results?
The results will not be available at the time of your scan. A radiologist will examine your scan in detail after your visit and prepare a written report to be sent out to the doctor who sent you for the scan. You will get the results from this doctor.
Please do not hesitate to ask questions either before or after your scan. Contact details can be found on your appointment card.
Royal College of Radiologists (RCR) 2001 Information for Adult Patients having an MRI Scan Available from: www.RCR.ac.uk [accessed April 2006].
NHS Constitution. Information on your rights and responsibilities. Available at www.nhs.uk/aboutnhs/constitution
How to contact us:
See your appointment letter for the number to phone with any queries you may have.
If you or the individual you are caring for need support reading this leaflet please ask a member of staff for advice.
© North Bristol NHS Trust. This edition published July 2019. Review due July 2021. NBT002009