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MRI General information

Date issued: May 2020

For review:  May 2022  

Ref: B-339/CH/Imaging/MRI Scan v5

PDF:  MRI general information leaflet [pdf] 436KB


What is an MRI Scan?

MRI stands for Magnetic Resonance Imaging. It uses a strong magnet and radio-waves (not x-rays) to look inside your body.


Who will do my scan?

The MRI scanner is operated by a Radiographer who will guide you through the procedure. Radiographic Helpers will be present to prepare you for the scan. Both the Radiographer and the Helper will introduce themselves to you at the start.

We are a teaching hospital, training medical and other health professionals for the future. Students might be present during your scan. If you are not happy with this please let us know when you arrive. This will not affect your care in any way.


How do I prepare for my scan?

Please read the enclosed information carefully and follow any instructions about eating, drinking or taking your usual medication.

If you have been referred for MRI of the head, please do not wear eye makeup when attending your appointment.



Some of our scanners have very limited accessibility (located a short walk from the hospital up a slope and accessed via steps). If you use a wheelchair please contact us as soon as you receive your appointment so that we can ensure your scan is arranged in an accessible scanner. If you require assistance transferring (e.g. use a hoist), again, please let us know as soon as possible so that we can ensure your appointment proceeds smoothly.


What happens when I arrive for my scan?

When you arrive in the MRI department you will be asked to fill in a form about your medical history, specifically whether you have a cardiac pacemaker or any other type of implant that may contain metal inside you.

Some implants are contraindicated for MRI. Please read your appointment letter carefully and ring the MRI department if you have any of the implants listed. Failure to do this may result in your scan being postponed.

You will be asked to remove jewellery, piercings and other metal/electronic items including bank cards and mobile phones before entering the scan room. We do provide lockers but you may wish to leave certain items at home.

Depending on the part of the body we are scanning, you may be asked to change into a hospital gown. If you don’t need to put on a gown we will ask you to empty any pockets completely. If you are having a scan of your heart we will put an ECG (Electrocardiography) on you for the duration of the scan.


Can someone come with me?

Due to limited space available in our waiting areas we ask that you bring only one person with you for your appointment. If it is essential that someone comes into the scan room with you, this person must be willing to answer questions about their medical history as they will also be going into the magnet room, and they must be willing to remove electronic / magnetic and metal items which we will place in a locker. Provided they have no contraindications to MRI they will then be able to stay with you during your scan.


What does the scan involve?

We understand that coming to hospital for a scan can be a daunting experience but we would like to assure you that there is no need to worry. The Radiographer will answer any questions you may have on the day. If you would like to talk through any concerns you might have before your scan please ring the number on your appointment letter and we will arrange for one of our Radiographers to ring you back.

You will be taken into the scan room and positioned comfortably on the scanner couch, normally with your arms relaxed at your side. A piece of equipment called a ‘coil’ may be positioned around the area that we are scanning.

We will ensure you are as comfortable as possible and you will be asked to relax and keep still during the scan. The part of the body that we are scanning will be positioned in the middle of the scanner. The scanner is open at both ends and you will be able to communicate with the Radiographer at all times using a call bell. The Radiographer will talk to you at intervals throughout the scan using an intercom.

During the scan you will hear loud banging noises; you will be given ear defenders or ear plugs to reduce the noise levels. We can play CDs (or the radio on some scanners) to you during the scan; we highly recommend that you bring a favourite CD with you to listen to. Alternatively we have a limited range of music available.


Will I have MRI dye?

We sometimes use a MRI dye which contains gadolinium. If we have been asked to perform a scan that uses this dye, this will be stated on the accompanying information. You may need to have a blood test before you come for your scan. Please read the accompanying information carefully to see if this applies to you. If you are breast-feeding and are having a scan that uses dye we would ask you to contact us BEFORE your appointment.

We also sometimes use a medicine called Buscopan®, or a drink called Mannitol, if this is the case for you, it will be stated on the accompanying information.


Are there any possible complications?

MRI scans are painless and safe. Unlike X-Rays and some other imaging tests, an MRI scan does not use ionising radiation. However:

  • Rarely, some people have reactions to the contrast agent which is sometimes used.

  • Pregnant women are usually advised not to have an MRI scan during the first trimester even though the scan is thought to be safe. This is a precaution. Therefore please let us know if there is any possibility of you being pregnant.

How long will it take?

The length of the procedure will vary depending on which area is being investigated. Total scan times vary from 15 to 60 minutes. Please read the enclosed leaflet for specific information about your MRI scan.

As we sometimes have to accommodate emergencies during the day we do suggest that you plan to be in the imaging department for up to one and a half hours.


What happens afterwards?

There are no after-effects from the scan itself. You can return to your normal activities as soon as the scan is over. If we have given you an injection of the MRI dye you may need to stay in the MRI department a little longer before you leave.


How do I get the results?

The pictures from the scan are studied by a Radiologist, who writes a report that gets sent to the doctor who sent you for the scan. The amount of time this takes can vary, and the Radiographer undertaking your scan will give you a guide to how long to expect to wait for the results. Please DO NOT ring the Imaging or MRI department for results as we are not permitted to give them to you.

If your GP asked for you to have the scan, please contact them using their normal system. If your scan was requested by a Hospital Consultant, you will either be given the results at your next outpatient appointment, or by a letter sent via your GP.


It’s my child who is having the scan

Small children under 5 are likely to be offered a general anaesthetic for their scan. In this case you will be provided with information about what is involved by the Children’s Unit.


There is a short photo storybook for children about having a MRI scan without an anaesthetic on our website:




Our website contains more information about MRI. General information about the hospital can be found at www.plymouthhospitals.nhs.uk, including facilities that are available and travel advice.


Image Sharing

As part of a shared service agreement with other NHS organisations, your radiology images and records may be shared with these other organisations as part of determining and providing your care. If you would like to know more about the extent of this sharing, or if you wish us not to share at all with another organisation, or have any other concerns about it, please contact a member of staff.


Reminder Service

We use a reminder service. You will receive a telephone call from an operator, or a pre-recorded message, a few days before your scheduled appointment. If you do not wish to receive a reminder, please let us know.

**If for any reason you are unable to keep your appointment, please telephone the number on your appointment letter so that we can offer this appointment to someone else**



The Hospitals car parks are pay on foot, this means patients and visitors will collect a token on the way into the car park and pay before they exit the car park. The pay machines will accept payment by cash and give change, payment by credit/debit card and payment by mobile phone. These machines are located throughout the car parks and in the Main Entrance. A small number of pay and display car parks are also available.

The car parks can be very busy so we suggest you allow time to park.

There are often road improvements / building works on site at the hospital, up-to-date car-parking information can be found on the hospital’s website at:


Please note: we have 5 MRI scanners at Derriford Hospital and they are located in different areas. Please read your appointment letter carefully to check which area you need to report to as they are quite far apart. You may prefer to park in a car park nearer the scanner your appointment has been arranged for.

The nearest car parks to the Mansfield MRI unit are Car Park F and the Multi-Storey Car Park. The nearest entrance for the Mansfield MRI unit is the ‘Maternity Entrance’ but this entrance is on a lower floor (Level 5).

The nearest car parks for MRI East / X-Ray East reception are Car Park A and B and the nearest entrance is the ‘Main Entrance’ which is on the same floor. You may prefer to enter through the ‘Main Entrance’ for all MRI scanners, as they are all on this floor (Level 6).

MRI Bee is situated in Car Park B.


Important Notice to Patients

There is a period of up to 15 minutes free parking in the marked drop off areas near the main entrances to the Hospital. This is designed for picking up/dropping off only and is not enough time for attending a hospital appointment. If you are attending a hospital appointment, then please use either the pay on foot or pay and display car parks.

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