MRI – Magnetic Resonance Imaging

Last Updated December 20th, 2021

What is an MRI?

MRI stands for Magnetic Resonance Imaging. This is one of the most commonly used diagnostic tools used worldwide to gain detailed information on internal organs and spinal column. This makes use of a strong magnetic field and radio waves to create accurate images of internal tissues and organs.

What does an MRI scan measure?

The strong magnetic field and radio waves are used to shed detailed light on the condition of tissues and organs, especially in the chest, abdomen, and pelvis region. Since it is an imaging technique, it provides a clear picture of your body’s internal mechanism. Depending on what issue the patient is currently facing, the respective doctor will be able to observe the MRI report and see if the readings are normal or abnormal.

Who should undergo an MRI scan?

An MRI scan can be used to detect and image the following organs/organ systems. If you experience pain owing to trauma, injury, bone growth, tumor growth, or degeneration of tissues in these areas, you might be asked to undergo an MRI scan:

– Abnormalities in the brain and spinal cord
Tumors, cysts, or any growths in any part of the body
– Cancer screening in case an individual falls in the high-risk pool for breast cancer
– Skeletal pain – back, knee, ankles, etc
– Cardiac issues (abnormal growth in cardiac muscles)
– Gastrointestinal organs dysfunction
– Pelvic pain such as in case of endometriosis
– Uterine issues mostly related to infertility

What are the various conditions diagnosed through an MRI scan?

– MRI for the brain and spinal cord can detect – cancer, brain injury, damage to blood vessels, spinal cord injuries, stroke, multiple sclerosis.

– MRI for musculoskeletal issues can detect – disc degeneration, slipped disc, nerve damage, bone infections, cancer/tumor growths, and cancer.

– MRI for the cardiovascular system can detect – blocked arteries, narrowing of arteries, damage caused by cardiac arrest, structural abnormalities of the heart, other heart diseases, etc.

– MRI is also done for breasts, kidneys, liver, ovaries, pancreas, and prostate. For mapping brain activity a special type of MRI known as fMRI(functional MRI) is done.

What is the underlying principle of MRI?

The human body is mostly made up of water (hydrogen and oxygen atoms). In each of these atoms are positively charged particles known as protons. When short bursts of radio waves are allowed to pass through the body, they push these protons out of their locations. When the radio waves are removed, these protons retrace their paths to their original location. This realignment of protons is detected by the receivers which give us an exact idea of where these protons are moving. The signals received from these millions of protons provide a complete picture of the tissues and organs. This is how an MRI technique works.

What exactly happens during an MRI scan?

The complete MRI scan procedure is done in the following steps:

– You lie on your back on the machine and this is slowly pushed inside the MRI scanner. Depending on which part of your body is being scanned you will be pushed head first or feet first.  This machine is a somewhat narrow chamber.

– Once you are inside the machine you will be able to communicate with radiographer via intercom and they will be able to observe you via a screen.

– The temperature of an MRI chamber is kept much lower. You will be given earplugs to cover your ears as the MRI scan procedure results in loud noise (the fast-moving magnets).

– You must remain still during the entire procedure.

– Once the scan is complete, you will be wheeled out of the scanning machine. You can go home immediately after the procedure.

How to prepare for an MRI scan?

– Before the scan, you can eat and drink and take the usual course of medication unless you have been advised not to.

– At times, you might be asked to not consume anything 4 hours before the scan. However, in some cases, you might be asked to consume a large amount of water. It all boils down to which specific part is getting scanned.

– Once you reach the hospital/diagnostic center you will be asked to fill out a form giving complete information about your medical history.

– You will also be required to sign a consent form before undergoing the MRI scan.

– You will be asked to remove any jewelry or metallic accessories such as watches, earrings, hair clips, etc before you undergo the scan. You will need to change into a hospital gown. Any metallic item in the clothing can also interfere with the magnetic waves, so you need to remove belts, buckles, well.

Is MRI scan painful?

MRI is a non-invasive and painless procedure. Unlike CT scan and X-rays, it does not expose your body to any harmful radiations.

Is it done under anesthesia?

MRI is a painless procedure so there is absolutely no need to opt for anesthesia. Since inside the machine you can get a tad claustrophobic, you can always opt for a mild sedative beforehand. Talk to your doctor prior to the procedure if you should get a sedative or not.

In case of babies and children undergoing an MRI, general anesthesia will be given before the procedure. If you have taken a sedative before the scan, it would be wise to ask someone to drive you home.

Who shouldn’t go for an MRI scan?

While an MRI scan is safe for most people, it can still lead to some adverse effects. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, an MRI scan is usually not prescribed. Even though no harm has been observed to the fetus or the mother owing to the radio waves, it is still not recommended during pregnancy. Similarly, if you a metallic implant in your body, MRI scan may not be suggested. It depends on a case-by-case scenario. If you have one or more of the following, you must inform the radiographer before undergoing the scan.

– Pacemaker
– Metal plates, wires, or screws implants
– Cochlear implant
– Drug pump implant
– Prosthetic meta heart valves
– IUDs
– Artificial joints
– Dental fillings and bridges
– Eye implants
– Tubal ligation clips
– Surgical clips/staples

What is the cost of an MRI scan in India?

The cost of an MRI scan in India can lie anywhere between Rs. 1,500- 25,000 depending on what part of the body is being scanned.

Is an injection given before the MRI scan?

In some cases, a contrast dye liquid might be injected prior to the MRI scan. This enhances the visibility of certain organs and tissues.

What are the risks associated with an MRI scan?

-You might get claustrophobic by remaining confined in the small space. If you think you will get anxious during the process, opt for a mild sedative before the scan.

– In case of contrast dye injection, some people may feel dizzy and nauseous. Many may develop a small skin rash. But these risks are mild and temporary.

– However, someone with serious kidney dysfunction may suffer from more serious complications because of the dye.  In such a scenario, you will be asked to go for a few blood tests before deciding if you fit for an MRI scan.

– Before taking the injection to inform the staff about any allergic reactions or clotting issues that you may have.

– Some people might have metal ink tattoos. In case you have one, inform the doctor beforehand.  Such a tattoo might start heating up as soon as the scan begins.

What care should one maintain before, during, and after the MRI?


Ask your doctor to give you a mild sedative if you think you might get claustrophobic. Drive home if you have taken a sedative.
If going for a contrast dye MRI, inform the doctor beforehand about your allergies and clotting issues, if any.Get too anxious by overthinking about the procedure. If you have anxiety, take a sedative.
There is no need to be on an empty stomach unless specified by your doctor.Forget listing out your complete medical history and allergy information before undergoing a scan.
Inform your doctor if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Get impatient for the reports.  It might take some time for your complete accurate report to be prepared.


When will I get my MRI reports?

Once the scan is done, the radiologist will prepare the MRI report as per the requirement put forth by your doctor. It might take a few hours to 1 day ( or even 1 week) depending on the area scanned. Once the reports are out, you must fix an appointment with the doctor to discuss the same.

Should I remain completely still during an MRI?

It is very important to remain completely still during an MRI scan. Any small movement can blur the images and the readings will not be accurately captured.  If a small body part is being scanned for a short scan, it might take only few seconds to few minutes. However, in case of spinal MRI scan or such, it may require an hour or even more.  In case of short scans, you might be asked to hold your breath in.

What should I do after the MRI scan is done?

– This is an out-patient procedure so can go home immediately after the procedure.

– You can resume normal activities once the scan has been done.

– If you have taken a sedative, ask someone to drive you home. Do not operate heavy machinery in this case.

– You will not get the reports immediately. Ask the concerned radiologist when can you come and collect your reports.

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