Is a Chest MRI?
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a type of noninvasive imaging
test that uses magnets and radio waves to create pictures of the inside of your
body. Unlike a CT scan, an MRI uses no radiation and is considered a safer
alternative, especially for pregnant women.
In a chest MRI, magnets and radio waves create black and white
images of your chest. These images allow your doctor to check your tissues and
organs for abnormalities without making an incision. MRIs also create images
that “see” beyond your bones — and include soft tissue.
a Chest MRI Is Done
Your doctor may order an MRI scan if they suspect that something
is wrong in your chest area and think the cause of the problem can’t be
determined through a physical examination.
Your doctor may want to order a chest MRI to see if you have:
- blocked blood vessels
- disease affecting your organs
- heart problems
- a source causing pain
- problems affecting your lymph system
Your doctor will tell you the exact reason they ordered the MRI.
Your doctor should keep you abreast of what they think could be wrong during
and after the procedure. If you aren’t clear on what’s going on, make sure to
ask plenty of questions.
Risks of a Chest MRI
Since an MRI does not use radiation, there are few, if any, side
effects. To date, there have been no documented side effects from the radio
waves and magnets used.
According to the National
Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, there are few risks from an MRI scan. If
you have a pacemaker or metal implant from previous surgeries or injuries, be
sure to tell your doctor beforehand and find out whether you can have an MRI.
It is possible for these implants to complicate a scan, or even malfunction
during the scan.
In rare cases, the dye used for the test will cause an allergic
reaction or worsen kidney function if you have kidney disease. However, these
are unlikely side effects.
If you are claustrophobic or have difficulty being in enclosed
spaces, you may feel uncomfortable while in the MRI machine. Try to remember
that there is nothing to fear. Your doctor may prescribe an anti-anxiety
medication to help with your discomfort. In some cases, you might be sedated
for the process.
to Prepare for a Chest MRI
Before the test, tell your doctor if you have a pacemaker.
Depending on your type of pacemaker, your doctor may suggest another route for
inspection, such as a CT scan. However, some pacemaker models can be
reprogrammed before an MRI so they are not disrupted by the examination.
Also, the MRI uses magnets, which can attract metals. Tell your
doctor if you have any type of metal implanted from previous surgeries, such
- artificial heart valves
You may need to fast for four to six hours before the exam. Check
with your doctor to be sure.
Your doctor may require the use of a special dye to highlight an
area of concern. This dye, gadolinium, is administered through an IV. It is
different from the dye used during a CT scan. While allergic reactions to the
dye are rare, alert your doctor of any concerns before the dye is injected.
a Chest MRI Is Performed
An MRI machine looks futuristic — it has a bench that slowly
glides you into a giant metal cylinder.
The technician will have you lie on your back on the bench. You
may receive a pillow or blanket if you have trouble lying still on the bench.
The technician will control the movement of the bench using a remote control
from another room. They will communicate with you through a microphone and
The machine will make some thumping and whirring noises as the
images are being taken. Many hospitals offer earplugs, while others have
televisions or headphones to help you pass the time. The test can last up to 90
As the pictures are being taken, the technician will ask you to
hold your breath for a few seconds. You won’t feel anything during the test, as
the magnets and radio frequencies — similar to the waves of FM radio — can’t be
Up After a Chest MRI
You don’t need to do anything after an MRI except put your
clothes back on.
If the images are projected onto film, it can take some hours for
the film to develop. It will also take some time for your doctor to review the
images and interpret them. More modern machines display images on a computer,
which allows your doctor to view them more quickly.
Preliminary results from a chest MRI may come within a few days,
but comprehensive results can take up to a week or more. Your doctor will most
likely call you in for an appointment to discuss your results and plan
treatment for problems identified. If your results were normal, they may order
more tests to help diagnose the cause of your symptoms.