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MRI Scans: Everything You Need to Know

Although a safe and painless procedure, MRIs can often stir worry in patients. While this is completely understandable, MRIs have come a long way over the years and medical staff do a fantastic job at easing concerns before, during, and after the scan.

Of course, whether your doctor has recommended an MRI scan or you're simply curious about the diagnostic possibilities it offers, you are still likely to have questions about MRIs before undergoing the procedure. 

In our article here, we cover such topics as what MRI stands for, how long MRIs take, and how much MRIs cost to help you know more about this potentially life-saving scan.

Take a look, below, to learn the ‘need to know’ facts about MRIs to help ease any concerns you may have.

What does an MRI scan show?

MRI stands for Magnetic Resonance Imaging and is a type of scan that creates detailed images of the inside of your body. With these images, an MRI scan is used to diagnose such conditions as:

  • Tumours or cancers

  • Strokes

  • Multiple sclerosis (MS)

  • Infections

  • Fractures, strains, or tears

  • Heart problems

Don’t worry, it’s a non-invasive and completely painless procedure. Instead, the MRI machine uses a powerful magnetic field and radio waves to scan your body’s organs and tissue. All you need to do is lie inside the MRI tube and let the machine do its work!

Why would a doctor order an MRI?

As MRI images can be used to examine almost any body part, they are invaluable for diagnosing conditions and planning potential treatments.

As such, a doctor would order an MRI scan to diagnose an injury or condition that might otherwise be difficult to detect. For example, damage to ligaments, tendons, and muscles show up clearly on MRI images, while X-ray scans can only detect skeletal or bone issues.

Alternatively, if you’re experiencing headaches, dizziness, or numbness, then a doctor might order an MRI of the brain to show what could be causing those symptoms.

In general, a doctor will judge on a case-by-case basis whether an MRI scan is necessary, considering a patient’s symptoms, medical history, and the results of other tests or examinations.

How long does an MRI take?

How long an MRI takes depends on the size of the area being scanned and how many images are needed. A total body scan can last for 15 to 90 minutes, whilst shorter scans can last up to 15 minutes. If you’re wondering how long a knee MRI takes, for instance, this will be on the shorter end of the spectrum.

What is the experience of being inside an MRI machine like?

Being inside an MRI machine is often not as bad as most people believe and practitioners are always on hand to ease any anxious feelings.

There are a few sounds to be aware of, however, during your MRI scan. Many people say they hear a loud tapping sound whilst the scan is being done, which is often compared to standing next to road works. Patients are also given earplugs or headphones, with the option to play music for the duration of their scan.

As for those who might struggle with small spaces, many modern MRI tunnels are now a bit wider than older types which may help to reduce the feeling of claustrophobia. However, it is always best to speak to your radiographer beforehand if you are claustrophobic as they will be able to provide a calming environment and offer all the support you need during your scan.

How long does it take to get MRI results?

Once the scan is complete, you’ll typically receive your results within one to two weeks. However, this may differ depending on why you’re getting an MRI and who is reading the results.

For example, MRI scan results times are shorter if it’s considered to be an emergency by the doctor, often being processed within 12 hours. On the other hand, MRI scan results times are longer for certain conditions, such as cancer diagnosis. That’s because multiple specialists and doctors might need to review the results before confirming a diagnosis.

If you want a more accurate prediction of how long it takes to get MRI results, be sure to ask the medical professional conducting the scan. Based on your personal circumstances, they can give you a better idea of when you’ll receive your results.

How much does an MRI scan cost?

While getting an MRI with the NHS is completely free, the waiting list for non-emergency scan can leave you without an appointment for months. Meanwhile, private MRI scans allow you to skip the queue and potentially diagnose health conditions sooner.

On average, the cost of a private MRI scan is between £400-£500 for one body part, though this can change depending on the healthcare provider. As you might expect, a full body MRI scan costs the most money to book, costing upwards of £1,500. 

If you want to find out more about getting a private MRI scan with Benenden Health or how to join our healthcare service, visit our healthcare pageAlternatively, head over to our Be Healthy hub for a wealth of articles and advice on keeping yourself in tip-top condition.

Medically reviewed by Llinos Connolly on June 2023.