Unlike an x-ray or CT scan, which uses ionizing radiation, an MRI uses a magnetic field and radiofrequency pulses to create detailed images on a computer of internal structures in your body. We often use an MRI to diagnose problems with organs in the chest, abdomen and pelvis as well as blood vessels, lymph nodes, ligaments and tissues.

Since MRIs do not expose you to radiation, they are very safe. They are also painless and have no short or long-term risks.

IMPORTANT: It’s critically important that you remove all metal objects and tell your doctor if you have any metal in your body (for example, a pacemaker or artificial joint). Because of the magnetic field in an MRI, metal can pose a risk.

What happens during an MRI: You will lie on a table that slides into a tube in the MRI machine. It looks like a big box with a donut hole. During the periods when we are taking images, we’ll ask you to hold very still so we get a clear picture. You’ll be able to move in between image-taking sequences.

The opening in the machine is narrow and when it’s taking images, it makes loud noises. These noises are normal. However, for some people, these aspects of the test can be stressful. If you are claustrophobic or anxious, talk to your doctor about taking a mild sedative before the procedure to help you relax. We will also give you earplugs to muffle the noise. An MRI generally lasts 15 to 60 minutes.

If your doctor has recommended images with a contrast agent, we’ll administer it before the scans. Usually, we use gadolinium, which does not have iodine, so most people are not at risk for an allergic reaction.

Radiology Associates of Richmond performs MRIs on both patients’ heads and body. We also perform MR angiography to evaluate blood vessels and help diagnose abnormalities, such as plaque in your arteries (atherosclerosis).

After your procedure, Radiology Associates of Richmond will interpret your test results and then send your physician a report so he or she can discuss your results and next steps with you.