What to Expect: An MRI of Your Head

Migraine. We all know the excruciating headache, nausea, and possible vision changes associated with that word; endo girls often better than anyone. Whether you are plagued by migraines with aura or without, chances are you have had to have an MRI of your head at least once. But, just like anything else, the first time is always the worst because it is inevitably the scariest. And that is exactly why I decided to write this post.

I remember the time (first and hopefully last) I had to have an MRI. I had no idea what to expect and was honestly worried that I would be too claustrophobic to actually do it. But, I did it! And I survived! So, I figured I would offer some advice to those of you currently contemplating whether fear will get the best of you or not. And, to those of you wondering whether it is even worth it in the first place. Spoiler alert: it is!

So, here is a basic outline of what to expect. Hopefully it will calm your nerves a bit.

1. Once your doctor (usually a neurologist) has decided he/she would like to do an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) of your head, you will need to schedule an appointment. Most of the time that appointment will be at a radiologist’s office, not your GP or neurologist’s office.

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The amount of time it takes to get an actual appointment will vary from office to office.

2. Then, once you have the appointment, you just have to wait for it to come. Oh, the waiting game…

3. When the day finally arrives, plan to get to your appointment on time or even a bit early. You never know if the office can fit you in a few minutes earlier, which will allow you to leave faster. Plus, you do not want to push every one else’s appointment back just because you were late for yours.

4. At the office, you will probably have to fill out paperwork while you sit in the waiting room, just like at any other doctor’s office. Remember to bring your insurance card and a photo ID just in case it is needed. 

5. When the doctor is ready for you, a nurse will come to get you and show you to a room to change into a hospital gown in. You cannot wear anything with metal into the MRI, so do not even bother wearing jewelry to the appointment. You will have to take it off anyways. 

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6. Once you have finished changing, you will be led to the room containing the actual MRI machine. There, the radiologist performing the MRI will talk you through the plan.

7. The first step is to lay flat on the table which will eventually push you into the MRI machine.

8. The radiologist will give you a helmet/head enclosure to wear and make sure it is fitted perfectly on you.

9. You should be offered headphones to listen to music. I opted out because I figured they would not cover up the loud banging of the machine and would just add even more noise. However, music is always an option if you want it.

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10. Before the radiologist leaves the room, he/she will establish a hand signal with you to be used in an emergency in which you feel you cannot continue the MRI.

11. Then, the radiologist will leave the room and enter an area with a window through which they can see you while they operate the MRI machine remotely. There is an audio system built in through which you can communicate to the radiologist and they can communicate back to you.

12. As long as every thing has gone to plan, the MRI will then start. The table you are laying on will move upwards and back into the MRI machine. Only the upper half of your body will actually be inserted in the tube-like portion of the machine. I did not find it to be as claustrophobic as I had expected.

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13. The circular part of the machine will then begin to move around your head, taking pictures at different parts. The machine does not get too loud when it first starts, but will get louder as it goes on.

14. The radiologist should keep you updated as to how much longer you will need to remain in the tube as the MRI progresses.

15. If necessary (you will know ahead of time if so), the radiologist will stop the machine towards the end and re-enter the room to inject your forearm with a dye that makes the images produced by the machine stand out in clearer detail. The injection is the same as getting an IV or having blood drawn and is harmless.

Importantly, however, if you have had the dye before and had an allergic reaction, be sure to tell the radiologist before he/she even begins the MRI. You should not have it again.

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16. The MRI itself will probably only be about 45 minutes long. Though it seems like a long time now, trust me when I say it really does not seem that long in the moment.

17. At the end of the MRI, the radiologist will again re-enter the room. This time, he/she will remove the head enclosure they gave you and help you to sit up on the edge of the table.

18. You will be allowed to go back into the room where you changed and exchange your hospital gown for your clothes.

19. And that’s it! You will most likely have to wait at least a week or two afterward for your results. However, the MRI will be so worth it because it will give your doctor the information they need to continue treating your migraines as best as possible.

Did this help anyone who is nervous before having an MRI? Let me know your experience in the comments!

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2 thoughts on “What to Expect: An MRI of Your Head

  1. I just had an MRI of my head in preps for sinus surgery, and it was exactly as you described! Except, no music was offered! I tried to meditate to make the time go by faster but the machine was too loud to really focus meaningfully. So in the end I just let my mind wander. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

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