Decision Assist



The purpose of this tool is to help you decide whether or not to have an MRI. When making a decision like this, you must balance:

This tool is not a substitute for professional medical care and advice. Work with your doctor to help you make this decision. A second opinion from another doctor may be valuable. There is usually no exact “right” or “wrong” answer.

Your physician may make certain recommendations to you. However, the final decision about whether to have this test rests with you.

What is the test?

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a non-invasive procedure that uses powerful magnets and radio waves to construct pictures of the body.

An MRI can provide detailed images of human tissue and organs. Combined with other imaging methods, a doctor can use MRI to make a more definitive diagnosis of a patient's disease.

The MRI scanner must be located within a specially shielded room to avoid outside interference. The patient will be asked to lie on a narrow table that slides into a large tunnel-like tube within the scanner.

If you are administered a contrast dye, you will receive an IV, usually in a small vein of your hand or forearm. A technologist will operate the machine and observe you during the entire study from an adjacent room.

Several sets of images are usually required, each taking from 2 to 15 minutes. A complete scan, depending on the body area studied, sequences performed, and need for contrast enhancement, may take up to 1 hour or more. Newer scanners with more powerful magnets may complete the process in less time.

MRI scans

Key points

How much time this decision tool will take

What this tool will provide

Review Date: 9/19/2010
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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  • Detsky ME, McDonald DR, et al. Does this patient with headache have a migraine or need neuroimaging? JAMA. 2006;296(10):1274-83.
  • Fox MG. MR imaging of the meniscus: review, current trends, and clinical implications. Radiol Clin North AM. Nov 1, 2007;45(6):1033-53, vii.
  • Morris E. Diagnostic breast MR imaging: Current status and future directions. Radiol Clin North Amer. Sep 1, 2007;45(5):863-80, vii.
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