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Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI scan)

A safe and painless imaging technique that can help us see inside almost any part of your body.

Patient entering a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner
Magnetic resonance imaging, more commonly known as MRI scanning, is a non-invasive imaging technology that uses magnetic fields and radio waves to produce accurate, detailed images of the inside of your body.  

An MRI scan can be used to diagnose a wide variety of conditions and injuries. It can help your doctor both to decide what treatment is right for you, and later to see how well that treatment is working. 

An MRI scanner is a large, tube-like machine that contains powerful magnets. It is operated by a radiographer, who is specially trained in operating medical equipment like X-Ray machines, MRI scanners, and CT scanners. (CT scanners use radiation to provide detailed images of your body, whereas MRI scanners do not.)  

During your scan, you will be asked to lie down in the MRI machine. Your radiographer will control the scanner using a computer in a different room. You will be able to talk to them through an intercom, and they will be able to see you throughout the scan on a television monitor, so you will not be alone throughout the process. The scanner will make loud noises at certain times during the scan, but this is normal, and your radiographer will provide you with earplugs to block out this noise. 

Your radiologist, a doctor, will interpret the results of your MRI scan and diagnose your condition. They might also be involved in building your treatment plan, but this depends on your individual circumstances. 

An MRI scan can be used to look at most areas of the body, meaning it can help diagnose a massive range of injuries and conditions. It can also assess the extent or progress of a wide variety of symptoms and conditions.

Your doctor might recommend you have an MRI scan if you have symptoms of any of the following conditions and they want to investigate further:

  • A joint injury, such as a fractured hip
  • A soft tissue injury, for example a damaged ligament
  • An injury or disease of your internal organs. This includes organs such as your heart, brain, liver, womb, and prostate gland
  • A tumour
  • Nerve damage

Your doctor might also recommend an MRI scan to:

  • Measure your blood flow
  • Check how well treatment (for various conditions) is working
  • Check how big a tumour is and whether it has spread from its primary location to a secondary location in your body

There are several benefits of having an MRI scan, including:  

It provides detailed images of your soft tissue

MRI machines can provide detailed images of the soft tissue within your body. CT scans can also provide images of soft tissue, but they are not as effective as MRI scans in assessing subtle changes in types of soft tissue. This tissue connects and supports your internal organs. Soft tissues include your muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, and blood vessels. Detailed images of your soft tissues can help diagnose a range of conditions and injuries across your body. 

It does not expose you to radiation

One of the benefits of having an MRI scan is that it does not expose you to radiation. This eliminates the risk of you developing radiation related complications, such as infection and sickness.  

Still, rest assured that the levels of radiation you are exposed to during other common medical testing (such as X-rays and CT scans) is extremely low, which is why these forms of testing are perfectly safe to have.  

It covers your entire body

While an X-Ray typically takes an image of a specific region of your body, an MRI scanner can take multiple images across multiple sections of your body at once. It covers large areas of your body that a smaller machine could not. This is a useful way of understanding where your symptoms originate from and targeting localised conditions and injuries across your body. 

It can detect medical issues in their early stages

An MRI scan can check for a variety of conditions, including tumours, bleeding, swelling, inflammation, and problems with your blood vessels. Because it is extensive and covers large areas of your body at once, an MRI scan is more likely than other testing methods to detect underlying issues in their early stages across your body. This can help you find the right treatment quickly and efficiently. 

Before having an MRI scan with Circle Health Group, you will need to have a consultation with one of our specialist Consultants, who can confirm whether an MRI scan is the right next step for you.  

To book an initial consultation, you normally need a referral letter. You can get this letter from your local GP, or from one of our private GPs at Circle Health Group. If you want more information on this process, just give us a call on 0141 300 5009 and one of our friendly advisors will guide you through the process.  

The type of consultant you will meet with depends on your symptoms. For example, if you have joint pain, you will meet with an orthopaedic consultant – also known as a consultant orthopaedic surgeon. If you are experiencing symptoms with your heart, you will meet with a consultant cardiologist. You don’t need to worry about working out which is the right specialist for you; it will all be detailed in your referral letter.  

If your consultant confirms you need an MRI scan to investigate your symptoms further, they will book one for you. This will most likely be done onsite at the same hospital where you had your consultation, and you should be able to choose a date and time that suits you. Your consultant will know exactly how quickly you need to have an MRI scan and they’ll make sure you get an appointment as soon as is necessary, meaning you don’t have to worry about your symptoms getting worse while you wait.  

You can usually see a specialist for your initial consultation within 48 hours of booking your appointment with us.  
During this appointment, your consultant will make a detailed examination of your medical history as well as asking about your current symptoms. They will want to know how these symptoms impact your everyday life, how often they occur and whether you have tried treatment options for them already. They will also ask about existing medical conditions you suffer from and how these affect your daily life. 
In order to assess your symptoms and make an accurate diagnosis, your consultant will gently carry out a physical examination of the affected area(s) of your body. If your consultant decides that you need an MRI scan to investigate your symptoms further, they will share more information about the process of MRI scanning, as well as booking the scan for you.  

All of our consultants, as well as the multidisciplinary teams they work alongside, are committed to keeping you informed and comfortable throughout your treatment with us. We will never go ahead with any stage in your treatment journey, including any scan you might need, until we’re confident that you know what to expect and that you’re comfortable with all decisions made.  

MRI scans to check the progress of ongoing treatment

It might be part of your treatment plan to check the effectiveness of ongoing treatment at various stages throughout your journey with us. In other cases, an MRI might be recommended if treatment has not helped to manage your condition and your doctors want to see why. 

If you do need an MRI scan to check the effectiveness of treatment for an already diagnosed condition, your Radiologist will organise this for you.  

The price of MRI scanning across our network of 50+ hospitals starts from £347* for one body part and £473* for two body parts. 

This is just a starting price, and the cost of your MRI scan with Circle Health Group will vary depending on your circumstances, the type of MRI you have, and your reason for having it. The price of an MRI scan also varies from hospital to hospital, so you should always get in touch directly for a personalised quote. 

Below is a breakdown of some of the types of MRI scans you can have at Circle Health Group along with the different starting prices for each. 

  • MRI scan - one part: starting from £347*
  • MRI scan - two parts: starting from £473*

Prices will typically increase based on any additional body parts scanned or elements required for the scan. Other types of MRI scan we offer include:

  • MRI arthrogram
  • MRI enterography
  • BUPA multiparametric MRI of prostate
  • MRI basic cardiac sign
  • MRI perfusion cardiac scan

The cost of private MRI scanning at our hospitals can be paid in full at the time, through your private medical insurance, or using our flexible payment plans. For further information about pricing, speak with one of our advisors on 0141 300 5009.

*These prices are provided as a guide and only apply to patients paying for their own treatment. The cost will depend on the scans requested by the healthcare professional who has referred you and your personal circumstances. You will always be given a fixed price before any scans take place, so please ask our team to confirm any pricing that is not clear.

An MRI scanner is a short, tube-like machine that opens at both ends. You will either enter the tube headfirst or feet first depending on the part of your body being scanned. 

Your radiographer will control the machine using a computer in a different room, but you’ll be able to talk to them through an intercom, and they will be able to see you on a television monitor. You can stop the scan at any minute by asking on the intercom, and you can talk to your radiographer at any time you like throughout the whole process. 

You will not feel anything throughout the process of having an MRI scan. However, you will hear loud tapping noises at certain points during the scan. This is normal and shows the MRI scanner is working as it should be to produce detailed images of the inside of your body. You'll be given earplugs or headphones to wear to block out this sound. You can listen to music through these headphones if you wish. 

It's important to keep as still as possible during your MRI scan. This helps us to get the clearest pictures possible. 

The scan lasts for anywhere from 15 to 90 minutes. This timeframe depends on the size of the area being scanned and how many images are taken. You’ll be told ahead of time how long you should expect to be in there for.  

Your doctor might recommend you have an MRI scan if you have symptoms of the following conditions:

A joint injury

Symptoms of a joint injury include stiffness, redness, and pain in and around your joint. You might experience a reduced range of motion and find it difficult to use your affected joint when performing everyday tasks.

A soft tissue injury, for example, a damaged ligament

Symptoms of a damaged ligament include severe pain and instability in and around your joint. You might also experience swelling, tenderness, and redness.

An injury or disease of your internal organs

Symptoms of a disease of your internal organs differ depending on which organ is affected. For example, symptoms of disease of the liver include abdominal pain and swelling and jaundice (when your skin and eyes become a yellowish colour), whereas symptoms of disease of the womb include abnormal menstrual bleeding and chronic pelvic pain. It is important to discuss your symptoms with your doctor, who can assess your condition and provide an accurate diagnosis alongside a tailored treatment plan.

A tumour

Symptoms of a tumour differ depending on the type of the tumour you have and where it is located. It is important to discuss your symptoms with your doctor, who can provide you with the right information and diagnose your tumour.

Heart problems

A cardiac MRI can help us to understand how well your heart is working. There are various different types of heart MRI. For example, a cardiac perfusion MRI checks how well blood is pumping around your body. Whereas a structural assessment MRI looks at your heart's anatomy and how it connects to the rest of your body.

A cardiac MRI is a useful tool that helps cardiologists analyse heart health and can inform diagnosis as well as treatment recommendations.

Depending on why you are having an MRI scan, you might be advised to avoid food or drink for up to four hours before the scan. This varies from person to person, though. Many people can eat, drink, and take any medication as usual before their scan, so there’s no need to do anything different than usual unless your consultant asks you to.  

Before your scan, your radiologist will explain the process in detail so that you know what to expect. Remember, you can speak to your radiographer through an intercom at any point throughout the scan, and they will be able to see you at all times on a television monitor. You are not alone throughout the process of having an MRI scan, and you can stop the scan at any point, should you wish. 

In preparation for the scan, you must remove any metal objects from your body. This is because the MRI scanner produces strong magnetic fields, and metal objects inside the scanner can interact with the magnetism, causing complications during the scan and interfering with the quality of the images taken. This includes: 

  • Piercings 
  • Watches 
  • Jewellery 
  • Hearing aids 

You will be asked to change into a hospital gown and place your items in a locker before the scan is performed.  

Some scans involve an injection of contrast dyes into your arm to make certain soft tissues and blood vessels show up clearly in the images. During this part of the process, a cannula (a thin plastic tube) will be inserted into a vein in your arm, which will inject contrast dye during the scan. Your Nurse might put some anaesthetic cream or spray onto your skin to numb the area of your arm before inserting the cannula. This should not be painful and does not take long to insert. The cannula will be removed after your scan. 

An MRI scan is a painless procedure so you will not need anaesthetic (you do not feel pain when under anaesthesia).  

You will be asked to fill out a safety questionnaire ahead of your appointment. This is so that your radiographer and radiologist have a good understanding of your general health and medical history. It will also highlight whether you have any metallic implants that might interfere with the results of your scan.  

MRI scanning is very safe and accessible to most people. However, there are some cases when having an MRI scan is not recommended. This is mostly if you have any metal implants or fragments in your body.  

If you do have this, you might still be able to have an MRI scan, but it’s important to make your radiologist and radiographer aware of this, so they can carry out your scan safely. Some examples of metallic implants include: 

A pacemaker 

This is a small device, about the size of a matchbox, used to control an irregular heartbeat. 

Metal plates, wires, screws, or rods 

These can be surgically inserted to stabilise and support bone fractures. 

A nerve stimulator 

This is an electrical implant used to treat long-term nerve pain. 

 A cochlear implant 

This is a device like a hearing aid. It is surgically inserted inside your ear. 

As mentioned above, you will be asked to fill out a safety questionnaire ahead of your appointment, so your radiographer and radiologist will be aware if you have any metallic implants that might interfere with your scan.  

It is perfectly normal to feel anxious about having an MRI scan. Knowing more about the process of the scan and how it works can help put your mind at ease. Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about MRI scans. 

Why are MRI scanners noisy?

MRI machines feature metal coils, also known as gradient coils, that receive electric pulses. This creates a magnetic field. Each pulse makes the coils vibrate, making a loud noise that echoes and becomes louder in the scan.  

How big is an MRI scanner?

MRI scanners vary in size. The standard size of an MRI scanner is 60 centimeters wide. Larger MRI scanners, also known as wide-bore MRIs, are usually 70 centimeters wide.  

Some people with claustrophobia find the prospect of having an MRI daunting, because it involves being in an enclosed space. At Circle Health Group, we encourage people with claustrophobia to come to the department ahead of their scan to discuss their fears with their healthcare team. We are here to answer any questions and alleviate any concerns you might have about the process of the scan.  

How long does an MRI scan take?

A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan usually lasts 15 to 90 minutes. This timeframe depends on the size of the area of your body being scanned and the number of images being taken. 

Can you feel an MRI scan?

The procedure is painless. You cannot feel the radio waves or MRI machine moving around you. You will hear the machine, but you won’t feel it working. 

Can you eat before an MRI scan?

You should be able to eat, drink and take any medication as usual on the day of your scan, unless your consultant says otherwise. 

Can an MRI scan detect cancer?

Yes, in some cases. MRIs can determine if a tumour exists, and if it is benign (not cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). MRI scans can also show if cancer is spreading to other areas of your body. 

Does an MRI show nerve damage?

Your doctor might be able to identify nerve damage on an MRI scan. However, nerve damage is usually found during a neurological examination and later pinpointed through an MRI scan. 

Can people come into the room with you during your scan?

You might be able to have a friend or family member in the room with you for moral support, if needed. Please ask your consultant about whether this is possible.  

What is an MRI scan used to diagnose?

Nearly every part of your body can be studied with an MRI machine, meaning it can diagnose a broad range of health conditions. As mentioned previously, these include: 

  • Soft tissue injuries, such as damaged ligaments 
  • Nerve damage 
  • Injuries or diseases affecting internal organs such as your heart, brain, liver, womb or prostate gland 
  • Tumours  
  • Joint injuries 

Are MRI scans safe?

MRI technology is very safe. There are no known health risks associated with the magnetic field or the radio waves used by the machine.  

Some people might be sensitive to the contrast agent used in some circumstances and develop an allergic reaction. However, all contrast agents are FDA-approved and safe. 

Why would a doctor order an MRI of your brain?

A brain MRI can help doctors look for conditions that affect your brain, such as bleeding, swelling, tumors, infections, and damage from an injury or a stroke. It can also help doctors look for causes of headaches, which can occur for a vast range of reasons, including stress and eyesight problems. 

What happens after an MRI scan?

An MRI scan is usually carried out as an outpatient procedure, which means you won't need to stay in hospital overnight. After the scan, you can return home and begin your normal activities immediately after. If you have had a sedative for the scan, you will need to arrange for a friend or family member to drive you home from hospital, but after 24 hours the sedative effects will have worn off and you can drive again. 

There is no recovery period after an MRI scan. You can usually leave the hospital and return to normal life on the same day as the scan. If you have had a sedative for the scan, you will need to arrange for a friend or family member to drive you home from hospital. The sedative will wear off within 24 hours, after which you can return to normal everyday activities. 

When will you get your results?

This depends on your reason for having an MRI scan. In some cases, your radiologist will be able to interpret and let you know your results on the same day as your scan. In other cases, you will receive your results within one week. 

The benefits of having a private MRI scan reflect the benefits of private healthcare. When you choose to go private with Circle Health Group, you can benefit from: 

  • The freedom to choose which hospital and consultant suit your needs   
  • Personalised, consultant-led treatment plans tailored to your individual needs   
  • Comfortable and safe private facilities maintained by expert multidisciplinary teams   
  • Support by the same compassionate clinical team from beginning to end   
  • Affordable, fixed-price packages with aftercare included   
  • Flexible appointment times and locations to fit your routine   
  • Flexible payment options to spread the cost of your care 

To speak with a member of our advisory team about private MRI scanning at our hospitals, call us on 0141 300 5009.

Content reviewed by Circle in-house team in March 2022. Next review due March 2025.

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