The MRI Prescreening Process: What to Know

Before every scan, patients must submit to an MRI prescreening process so radiologists can be sure everything goes smoothly during the procedure. It’s not that MRI scans are dangerous; in and of themselves, they aren’t. In fact, because they don’t expose patients to ionizing radiation, they’re much safer than X-rays. But MRI machines rely on powerful magnets. One key goal of screening is to ensure that no ferromagnetic metals enter the MRI suite, where they could be drawn forcefully to the MR magnet.
However, the search for metal is just one part of MRI prescreening. If you’re preparing for your first MRI, here are some of the things you’ll have to talk about before entering the MR system room:

  1. The Pre-MRI Screening Questionnaire
    You’ll probably be asked to fill out a detailed form before beginning the face-to-face screening with your technologist. This form will cover a variety of seemingly unrelated details, but rest assured that all of the information is important to ensure a safe and successful scan. You might fill out the form when your doctor orders the MRI, or you may be able to complete it online prior to your appointment.
  2. Medical Devices and Implants
    Identifying biomedical implants that could interact with MRI machines is a crucial part of the prescreening process. Devices that contain ferromagnetic metals, or that are activated by magnets, electricity, or mechanical means, may contraindicate MRI scans, which use powerful magnets of their own. Examples include pacemakers, aneurysm clips, surgical staples, and metallic stents.
  3. Prior Surgeries and/or Metal Fragments
    Along the same lines, both your verbal and written screenings will ask about these key elements of your medical history. If you have metal fragments embedded in your body, you might not be a good candidate for MRI. In that case, your health care team will choose another method of diagnostic imaging.
  4. Your History with MRI Scans
    Doctors may ask an open-ended question, such as, “Have you ever had a problem during an MRI scan? If so, explain.” This covers a wide range of issues, both physical and psychological, and serves as a backup question for each individual item on the form.
  5. Claustrophobia and Anxiety During Medical Procedures
    About one out of every 100 patients who undergo MRI develop anxiety so intense that they can’t finish the scan. Successful interventions are available, so it’s important for the imaging team to know about claustrophobia ahead of time. It’s far better to treat anxiety starting before the MRI than to have to stop a scan before it’s completed.

In addition to questions about these subjects, technologists or radiologists may ask women about their menstrual cycles, pregnancy, and breastfeeding. You will also need to disclose any tattoos or permanent makeup; some inks contain metallic elements that can heat up during an MRI.
Your diagnostic imaging staff wants to ensure a comfortable, risk-free procedure, every time. The MRI prescreening process is an important part of realizing that goal.