MRI scan, how does it work?

An MRI scan is sometimes necessary to supplement previous research where no clear picture of the condition or disease has been obtained. An MRI scan takes a long time but is a painless examination. Magnetic fields and radio waves are used, and sometimes contrast fluid. It is possible to bring your own music to listen to during the examination.

What is an MRI scan?

An MRI scan can be used to make an image of the body, in two or three dimensions. An MRI scan is used when other tests cannot make a clear diagnosis. For example, an X-ray can only visualize bone. An MRI scan can visualize bone, muscles, tendons, fatty tissue, bone marrow and cartilage. This allows a much better diagnosis to be made.

The reason

An MRI scan is never made just like that. The technology is quite expensive. First, previous research takes place. Only when these examinations cannot provide a clear picture of the complaint will an MRI scan be made. These are often complaints with the heart, breathing, joint complaints, headaches, neck and back complaints, complaints of internal organs such as the uterus, kidneys, lungs, etc.

Age of the patient

It does not matter how old the patient is: anyone can undergo an MRI scan. During an MRI scan, the patient must lie perfectly still. The examination takes at least twenty minutes and this is too long for small children to lie still. Most small children won’t even stay still for 20 seconds. An MRI scan can be frightening for these children. For this reason, most children are put under anesthesia for the MRI scan. This is the only way to conduct the research properly. The same sometimes applies to patients with an intellectual disability: it is often impossible for these patients to lie still for so long and they are put under anesthesia.

How does the device work?

An MRI scan consists of a tunnel into which the patient is placed. The device works with a magnetic field and sound waves. The strong magnet causes the hydrogen protons in body cells to lie in one direction. The hydrogen protons receive energy through sound waves. Once the sound waves stop, the protons emit the energy again. The emitted energy is captured by the device and converted into an image. The device is cooled by means of helium, which is audible as a humming sound.

Enter the MRI scan

During the examination it is possible to listen to (your own) music through headphones, so as not to hear the hum of the device. Sometimes a contrast fluid must be used to make the image clearer. Organs become more clearly visible through contrast fluid. This fluid is injected through an IV. In most cases, the patient is given an emergency button that can be pressed in the event of an emergency. It is not advisable to press every item: there is a good chance that an investigation in this way will take a very long time. The examination takes 20 to 60 minutes. It is important to remain very still during the entire examination, movements make the image unusable. This means you have to start over.
Certain abnormalities or diseases may immediately become apparent during the examination. After the examination, the doctor often knows significantly more. This makes an MRI scan an ideal research option. However, an MRI scan is not simply performed: it is an expensive and time-consuming examination. Not only does using the device cost a lot of money and time, this also applies to the staff. In most cases, an MRI scan is fully reimbursed by the health insurer. If in doubt, it is better to contact your health insurer first. A preventive medical examination such as a Total Body Scan is not always reimbursed or only partially reimbursed. The prices for an MRI scan vary from 350 to 1,000 euros.


  • Anyone who has previously had an allergic or hypersensitive reaction to contrast fluid must report this when it is needed again.
  • Leave all jewelry, piercings and metal objects at home. They have to be taken off during the investigation anyway.
  • Bring your own CD with favorite music.
  • Ask if you don’t need to turn on all the lights, because you look at this differently. Only for a head scan it is necessary that all lights are on.
  • Close your eyes during the examination to prevent your head from turning to see everything.
  • The examination is completely safe and painless. So don’t feel fear.
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