MRI Scan – What to Expect?

Today I had another MRI scan – I’ve lost count now of how many I’ve had but I think I’m winning the family competition for most scans had. Although my brother had to have a lot when he was younger, I think my first one was in Italy in July 2017. Since then, I’ve been having relatively frequent ones to monitor my tumour. The last two have shown that it has shrunk so fingers crossed that things are going in the right direction still, after a period of growth (although it would be nice if the chemo would just attack the cancer cells, and not my platelets or liver function!)

I thought it might be useful to write a blog about my experience of MRI scans – if you haven’t had one before the thought of them can be quite scary and, for me anyway, the better informed you are, the less scary it is. What I’ll say here is mostly coloured by my experiences of having MRI scans of the head at the QE in Birmingham – I don’t know if the process differs according to where you are.

What happens?

So, what actually happens? Before the scan I fill in a form about my medical history – it doesn’t take long and isn’t very complicated.

A typical scan for me lasts about half an hour, and I lie down on the scanner. They give me earplugs to protect from the noise (it’s a very loud machine) and put a kind of mask over my face, though it’s nowhere near as tight as the one I had in radiotherapy. Halfway through, I get given an injection (I think of contrast dye) and then I go back inside the machine. It’s all fairly straightforward – I get given a buzzer to press if I experience any difficulty but I haven’t needed to use it yet. Having it is reassuring though, and because I have to stay still for the duration of the scan, it gives my hands something to do and keeps me still. The only difficult part is the injection of the dye – I’m lucky in not having an issue with needles, but I do have terrible veins so it’s often hard for the person doing the injection to find one! I tend to just apologise a lot – although one piece of advice I was given which actually seemed to work (as long as I remember!) is using hand warmers. Being warmer seems to make a difference somehow! (I’m sure someone who knows about these things can explain…)

After that the scan is over and I’m free to go! I usually get the results at my next appointment.

What to wear

You aren’t allowed metal in the room, so I always remove my watch and don’t wear jewellery. I’ve been allowed to wear my own clothes, so I go for comfy things without zips or belts, and sleeves that can be rolled up to make the injection easier. I got complimented on my shoes today so I must have been doing something right!

Potential pitfalls


None of these have been problems for me, but if you do get claustrophobic it could be exacerbated – you’re in a small space and expected to keep very still for the duration! If you also have bad veins, or just don’t like needles, the injection might be hard. As I said, it is very loud and so that might be disturbing. In my experience though, the people who do the scan are lovely and try to mitigate all this as much as they can.

And afterwards?

After the scan, you’re free to go, but here I give the same advice as Lupin after attempted Dementor attacks – chocolate is always necessary!

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