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MRI information for patients

Do I need to confirm my appointment?

No, however if you can’t attend for some reason, please let us know, so that we can offer your appointment to another patient. You will also be sent a questionnaire about your health and medical history. If you answer yes to any of the questions you should call the MRI department as soon as you can. This does not necessarily mean that you cannot have a scan. One of our team will go through this questionnaire with you to ensure you can have the scan safely.

Preparing for your scan

On the day of your MRI scan, you should be able to eat, drink and take any medication as usual, unless you're advised otherwise by a MRI Radiographer or instructions received by post / My Chart.

In some cases, you may be asked not to eat or drink anything for up to four hours before the scan, and sometimes you may be asked to drink water beforehand. This depends on the body area being scanned.

Arriving for your appointment

Please allow plenty of time to get to the department, you will either be asked to come to Addenbrooke’s Hospital, the Community Diagnostic Centre at Ely or the Community Diagnostic Centre at Wisbech. Travel details are available via this MRI webpage and should also be sent to you with your appointment letter. At Addenbrooke’s Hospital you may have your scan at the MRIS Department or at the Rosie Hospital. A site map highlighting which MRI Unit you will have your MRI examination will be sent with your appointment.

Please note that the MRI unit does not have Child Services. If you need to attend for your MRI examination with an infant or young children, please make sure you bring an adult who can look after your family whilst you are having your scans. Children are not allowed in the MRI environment unless they are having a clinical examination.

Why is my MRI examination booked at Ely or Wisbech Community Diagnostic Centres?

The recommendation was that NHS organisations across England move to providing diagnostic services in Community Diagnostic Centres (CDCs) and all health systems are expected to include a network of CDCs as part of their health services offer.

The CDCs enable patients to access planned diagnostic care nearer to home without the need to attend acute hospital sites. These services are separate to urgent diagnostic scan facilities, which means shorter waiting times and a reduced risk of cancellation which can happen when more urgent cases take priority. Therefore, this will lead to improved patient experience and outcomes.

When you arrive

On arrival, you will be asked to fill in a questionnaire about your health and medical history. Often this questionnaire is the same one sent to you with your appointment letter. One of our team will go through this questionnaire with you to ensure you can have the scan safely.

As the MRI scanner uses strong magnetic fields, it's important to remove any metal objects from your body. Because clothes can contain metal zips, buttons, underwires (bras) and even metal fibres, you may be asked to change into a hospital gown for the scan. Any valuables can be stored in a secure locker.

Tattoos and make-up

Some cosmetics contain metals that can interact with the MRI magnet. If you are having an MRI scan please don’t wear mascara. Occasionally, you may be asked to remove some other types of make-up before your scan.

Some tattoos contains traces of metal that very occasionally can heat-up during a scan. Before your scan you will be advised to tell the radiographer if you feel any heating or tingling sensations during the MRI.

Injection of a contrast dye

Some MRI scans involve having an injection of a contrast dye. This makes certain tissues and blood vessels show up more clearly and in greater detail. A Clinical Support Worker or a MRI Radiographer will need to insert a cannula (small plastic tube) for this procedure, which is usually placed in a vein in your arm.

Very occasionally the contrast dye can result in side effects such as feeling sick, a skin rash, a headache and dizziness. These side effects are usually mild and don't last very long. You will remain in the department until these symptoms have resolved.

Anaesthesia and sedatives

If you're claustrophobic, you can ask for a mild sedative to help you relax. This must be prescribed by the referring team well in advance of having the scan. The sedative can be collected from Outpatient Pharmacy. If you decide to have a sedative during the scan, you'll need to arrange for a friend or family member to drive you home afterwards, as you won't be able to drive for 24 hours.

We have a healthcare play specialist to help young children prepare for their scan. We also support mothers to feed and wrap their infants before the scan. Sometimes it will be necessary for babies and young children to be given a general anaesthetic before having an MRI scan by the referring clinician.

Setting up the scan

An MRI scanner is a short cylinder that is open at both ends. You'll lie on a motorised bed that's moved inside the scanner. You'll enter the scanner either head-first or feet-first, depending on the part of your body being scanned. It is a noisy procedure therefore ear protection will be provided and its use mandatory.

As part of the scan, a soft flexible blanket or in some cases, a more rigid frame, is placed over or around the body part being imaged. This is used to detect the small MRI signal that is needed to create the images.

A radiographer will operate the MRI scanner from a computer which is in a different room to keep it away from the magnetic field generated by the scanner. You will be able to talk to them through an intercom, and they will always be able to see you.

If you feel anxious about your scan, a friend or family member may be allowed to stay with you while you're having your scan. Children can usually have a parent with them. Anyone who stays with you (adult) will be asked to complete the same questionnaire about their health and medical history. Depending upon their answers, they may not be able to sit with you in the MRI room.

The MRI examination

An MRI examination is made up of several individual scans that are each usually only a few minutes long. Depending upon the clinical requirements the total examination can be anywhere from 10 to 60 minutes. The radiographer will be able to advise you of the approximate duration of your examination at the start and the duration of each individual scan before each scan starts. During scanning the MRI scanner will make loud tapping noises, which is normal. You will be required to use earplugs and / or headphones since these noises can be quite loud. For some scans you may be asked to hold your breath. The radiographer will give you clear instructions if this is required.

If you wish, in some of our scanners, music or the radio can be played during your MRI to help you relax.

After the scan

An MRI scan is usually carried out as an outpatient procedure. This means you will not need to stay in hospital overnight.

After the scan, you can resume normal activities immediately. But if you have had a sedative, a friend or relative will need to take you home and stay with you for the first 24 hours.

Your MRI scan needs to be reported by a radiologist (a doctor trained in interpreting scans) and possibly discussed with other specialists.

The radiologist will send a report to the doctor who arranged the scan, who will discuss the results with you. It usually takes a few weeks for the results of an MRI scan to come through unless they're needed urgently.