Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
An MRI scan uses a powerful magnetic field, radio frequency pulses and a computer to produce detailed images of any part of the body.
The MRI examination will be carried out by a radiographer, a specialist healthcare worker trained to perform scans. Sometimes, a radiologist (a specialist doctor trained to review images) or a cardiologist (doctors who specialise in diseases and defects of the heart and blood vessels) will also be present.
MRI results are used to help diagnose conditions, plan treatments and to see how effective previous treatment has been.
Currently we have three MRI scanners. Two '1.5 Tesla' scanners are located in the main hospital building within Medical Imaging. We have a visiting scanner, operated by Alliance medical staff, who work closely with our department.
We have also recently installed a '3 Tesla' MRI scanner, in partnership with the University of Exeter, to scan research and clinical patients at the RD&E in the Mireille Gillings Neuro Imaging Centre.
More on what we do
The MRI unit is a large cylinder-shaped tube, surrounded by a circular magnet. Devices called coils, which send and receive radio waves, are placed on and around the part of your body being scanned.
A computer then processes the signals and generates a series of images, each of which shows a thin slice of the scanned area.
You should not feel any discomfort during an MRI scan. It is a non-invasive procedure and no ionising radiation is used.
Before your appointment, please contact us to let us know if you have any implanted devices, such as pacemakers, inner ear implants, intra-cerebral aneurysm clips and some muscular and neuro-stimulators.
The strong magnets used during the scan can affect any metal implants or fragments in your body.
On arrival, all patients have to complete a MRI safety checklist to ensure that it is safe to go ahead with the scan.
For some procedures, the patient will be asked to change into a gown. Please avoid bringing valuables. If you have to, they can be locked away until after the examination.
When all the checks are complete, the radiographer will ask the patient to lie on the MRI scanning table.
The radiographer will then move the table into the scanner. The area that we have been asked to look at will be in the centre of the machine. It is important to lie very still for the scan so that the pictures are not blurred.
The machine is very noisy so earplugs and/or ear defenders are provided. Music can be played from either a CD or the radio. You will be given an alarm to hold which can be activated should you wish to attract the attention of the radiographer, who can talk to you via a two-way intercom.
MRI examinations consist of a series of sequences, each of which can last for several minutes. An MRI scan can take from 10 minutes to 1 hour to complete.
The patient is usually alone in the scanning room. Some patients might find that they are claustrophobic and are unable to complete the examination. The radiographers will do everything that they can to put you at ease. If we are unable to complete the procedure, it might be possible for the scan to be re-booked with sedation.
For some examinations, an injection of Gadolinium (contrast dye) might be given. For some abdominal or gynaecological procedures, it might be necessary to use a drug called Buscopan. Before giving you an injection, the radiographers will ask you some additional questions to make sure it is safe to do so.
If your scan is booked with a contrast injection and you are pregnant or breast feeding, please contact us before attending the appointment.
If you have any mobility issues, please inform the MRI booking team so that we can ensure this is taken into account when selecting the best scanner for your appointment.
Medical Imaging has a small team of nurses consisting of: a radiology sister, registered nurses, HCA (healthcare assistant) and an auxiliary, who have many years of experience and skills between them.
Their role within the department is to assist with all interventional procedures in all areas, including CT, MRI, ultrasound, fluoroscopy and interventional radiology. They also assist patients in recovery post procedure before sending them to wards or discharging them home.
Where to find us
RD&E Wonford, Barrack Rd, Exeter EX2 5DW
The Medical Imaging Department
Area M, Level 1
To contact the MRI team, call 01392 402336 (press option 1, then option 5).
The team is available Monday to Friday, 9am to 4pm
Patient leaflets and documents
Children and young people
Our team is very experienced at scanning children and young people. A parent can stay in the room, as long as they have been successfully screened for safety.
Very young babies can usually tolerate the scan after a feed.
Other children might require a general anaesthetic. There are three or four of these sessions per month.
If you have any questions, please contact your referring doctor or us.
A video on what to expect when coming into hospital for an MRI scan is available for children to watch. You can find it under the 'Videos' heading above.