What You Can Expect From a Breast MRI

As a veteran of every modality of monitoring the breast, I have endured many MRIs. And, let me tell you first hand that the breast MRI is not a pleasant experience. Don’t get me wrong. I know that the MRI is a very effective tool at picking up on abnormalities. And, along with ultrasound and mammogram, a pretty complete puzzle can be pieced together diagnostically speaking.

The facility I go to for my breast MRI is about as pleasant as it gets. They have made a strong attempt to create a homey and comfortable environment. It does not have the feeling of a hospital but it is more cozy with nice pictures on the wall, comfortable robes to wear and offerings of refreshments (even though they ask that you don’t eat or drink for at least 2 hours prior).

Since I was having a test done with contrast (this is when you are hooked up to an IV line prior to the test then mid-way through the test, you will be alerted that they are injecting the contrast dye. The dye lights up areas that may otherwise be missed), they set me up in a separate room with a TV while I waited for the nurse to insert the IV in my arm.

Before they take you in to the MRI room, they ask if you would like to listen to music during your test. I always say that I do and I am handed a whole menu consisting of pages and pages of songs from which I can make a selection. This is all very nice. The problem is that no one has yet to make a decent headphone that can be worn during the MRI procedure. If you have never had one done, you may not be aware of the high noise level during an MRI. There is banging and booming and pinging. As loud as they try to make the music, it is drowned out by all of the noise of the test.

During my last visit, they made the music so loud in my headphones, it was uncomfortable. But, I still couldn’t really hear it. Also, the earpieces were fitted too tightly against my ears, which hurt after a few minutes. I was so uncomfortable trying not to think about the discomfort on my ears all while trying to lay perfectly still. It was a challenge. I think that as noisy as the test is, I may just skip the music next time!

What you should also be prepared for is the position you are lying in while the test is being performed. Now, since I have done the test so many times, I have gotten somewhat used to it. But, for a newbie, it may be a bit daunting. When you are asked to climb up onto the table for the test, you will be positioned face down. Your head will be positioned on something that is similar to the headrest used on massage tables. In this prone position, your breasts are adjusted to hang through two squares (a left and a right) that are called coils.

Since I always try to look at the bright side of any given situation, there is a benefit to being in this position – you cannot see when they push you into the tube of the MRI. For one who is claustrophobic, you will not be aware that you are in a very contained space. I have found that I can fall asleep in this position (hard to believe I know!)

You are handed a buzzer that you are told you can push if you need the technician during the test. And, you are asked to be very still. The entire test will take between 30 and 45 minutes.

During the test, the technician will talk to you and let you know how things are going and how far along you are. They will ask if you are doing alright. You will be able to hear them talking to you through the headphones. They will also let you know when they are going to inject the contrast dye, if your test includes it. If you do have the dye injected, you will feel a little bit of coolness in your arm, which will quickly dissipate. When the contrast dye is used, they will tell you to drink plenty of water throughout the rest of the day to flush it out of your system.

It is important to remember NOT to move during the test! If you do, the images will be blurry and you will only be asked to retake portions of the test. This happened to me once when I was getting over a cough. I had a coughing fit right on the table and ended up being there twice as long because they had to retake the images. When I stood up after having my face planted against the headrest for over an hour, I had so many indentations carved into my face, I looked like a mangled raccoon.

The video I have inserted in this article will give you a better idea of how the test will go down. Give it a watch.

If you need to have the breast MRI, have no fear. While there are some definite improvements that need to be made to provide a more comfortable experience for the patient, the test goes by quickly and you will be rushing around the rest of your day and back to normal immediately following the test.

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