How to prepare for an MRI: What they don’t tell you

Lessons I've learned about my clothing, music, and jewelry when being scanned

Leigh Anne Nelson avatar

by Leigh Anne Nelson |

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Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is used to diagnose and monitor the progression of multiple sclerosis (MS). We patients can expect to have regular MRIs, although the frequency will depend on our age and disease stability. It’s important that we be comfortable during the procedure, as it involves lying on our backs and remaining still for an extended period of time.

I’ve learned some lessons about MRIs that healthcare providers didn’t offer, and they may make your experience better.

I’ve been instructed to wear comfortable clothes without metal (i.e., buttons, snaps, zippers). Wearing my own clothes during an MRI is important to me, so I carefully plan my outfit. I’m often given the option to change into gowns or scrubs, but they can be ill-fitting, uncomfortable, and even revealing.

I’ve been told to change into a gown and given no other option. After I explained that I’d dressed appropriately and would like to wear my clothes, my body was scanned with a metal detector. Once technicians determined that I was metal-free, I was allowed to remain in my clothes. I thus learned to advocate for myself and ask questions when something seems contradictory or incorrect.

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Why I’m actually looking forward to a date with the MRI scanner

4 mistakes that have taught me lessons

Sometimes, however, I’ve learned my lessons through my mistakes. My first was to wear a bra with metal clasps in the back, so of course I had to remove it. For many women, being braless is pleasurable, but for others, it makes them self-conscious and physically uncomfortable. The lesson I learned was to wear a basic sports bra.

My second mistake was to wear warm clothing. The temperature in the room housing the MRI machine is kept about 70 degrees F with moderate humidity. I’m often offered a warm blanket when I’m being prepped for the procedure. Once the MRI begins, the temperature inside the machine heats up quickly.

To me, comfortable clothes are sweats from head to toe, and thus I’ve been overdressed and uncomfortably hot while getting scanned. The lesson I learned was to wear athletic pants made of light material or shorts and a short-sleeve T-shirt, and to decline the warm blanket. I might be cold while being prepped for the procedure, but I’ll be more comfortable during it. I do recommend wearing socks as your feet typically remain outside the machine, where it’s cooler.

My third mistake was requesting inappropriate music. MRIs make loud noises as they scan. I’m usually asked if I want headphones to listen to music and given a choice of genres. The music’s purpose is not only to counter the noise, but also to promote relaxation.

Instead of asking for a specific genre, as I wanted to be seen as easygoing and didn’t want to inflict my music preference on others, I let the MRI technician select the music. His selection was acceptable, but wouldn’t have been my choice. I later found out that others don’t hear my music selection.

Another time, I selected the pop hits genre. During the procedure, the song “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” by Justin Timberlake played. Without realizing I was doing it, my feet were moving and having a dance party. The MRI technician had to remind me to remain still. I challenge you to listen to this song without dancing or at least tapping your foot to the rhythm.

Although I found this funny, I know it could’ve interfered with the MRI scan’s quality. I’ve found it’s best for me to listen to the sounds of ocean waves and not music. The lesson I learned was to identify my preferred relaxing, calming sounds before going to the appointment.

My fourth mistake was related to the requirement to not wear jewelry. My daughter had caught me in a weak moment, and I’d agreed to get another body piercing with her. Without thinking about my upcoming MRI, I got a second piercing in both ears. The metal studs shouldn’t be taken out for eight weeks to allow for proper healing. Early removal may result in not being able to reinsert them.

My MRI had been scheduled for five weeks after I got the piercings and thus had to be rescheduled. The lesson I learned was that I don’t need any more piercings. Seriously, though, I didn’t identify this problem proactively and want others having MRIs to keep my experience in mind.

I hope these tips gleaned from my experiences will help you feel more relaxed and prepared for your MRI.

Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.


Fiona F avatar

Fiona F

My last MRI scan was so different from previous scans. While I was lying down, straight above me was a television showing a subtitled nature documentary.
It completely took my mind from the actual procedure to the extent that I began hoping not to be finished before I knew the fate of the deer on the documentary! It was certainly the most relaxed I've been in that situation.

Amie L Kellogg avatar

Amie L Kellogg

That’s amazing! Good for you. May we ask what state you llve in?

Cay Borduin avatar

Cay Borduin

Thanks for your insights! I wanted to note that I've had the opposite experience in that the hospital keeps the MRI machine room cool - and I got cold! So now I layer up in athletic gear as it tends to be metal free.

Rebecca Gastell avatar

Rebecca Gastell

The only MRI I had was of my breasts. Cancer was found in one breast. When having a breast MRI, it maybe very uncomfortable.. you are on your stomach and your breast dangle down into these cone shaped tubes (that I can remember) and your head is facing down into a msssage-like padded head piece. I’m a plus size lady (not too plus), but I found it very uncomfortable lying on my stomach. The stretcher is not comfortable at all that you lay on. I had a piece of metal stuck in my sternum for the whole test (45 minutes) of the test. My face layed in this hole and no air was circulating in there so it was so hard to breath. I was given a stern warning not to move or give up because they would stop the test, charge me for the test and it would have to be redone at a later date. So I layed there like a good little soldier, but was praying the whole 45 min to God to help me through this and not to give into the pressure to quit. It wasn’t the banging of the machine or even the heat ( it was hot), but the lack of oxygen and the pressure from that piece in my sternum. No earphones, no relaxation meds, no TV. I was a sweaty mess after it was all over. I will never do that again (had a mastectomy soon after and that was a piece of cake compared to this MRI.). It’s not scary at all, it was just very hard to get through it.

Daniel avatar


Because the MRI is so loud I opt for loud music - or at least music that might be heard through the din, although the headphones used in MRIs are pretty terrible.

I can't imagine how the sounds of ocean waves would audible.

Jay S avatar

Jay S

As a heads-up, note that increasingly exercise wear, like sports bras, contain metal particles (copper, silver, etc) for various reasons. These are not ferromagnetic and will not be caught by the ferromagnetic screener. However, they do conduct and have resulted in burns in some patients. This is why some sites have a zero tolerance policy on outside clothing/garments. It's become very difficult to screen effectively for these and can be akin to playing Russian Roulette in terms of safety (just because it didn't cause a burn during a brain exam doesn't mean it will be ok for a breast exam, etc).

Trudy avatar


Yes - it’s all about safety & nothing else.
Keep that in mind as you “advocate” for yourself during any MRI
Techs do not know if something is causing you discomfort & generally will place more padding if possible so do speak up. MRI units vary with manufacturer for comfort
RE: MRI Breast - best way to image breast tissue
Work WITH your technologists & not against them
Contrast requirements vary by exam & drink your water

Gina N Hooker avatar

Gina N Hooker

Correct. We have everyone change into a gown and scrub pants. No sports bras for reason you mentioned. Only exception on changing clothes is a disabled immobile pt who wears all cotton. Too often people will say pockets are empty then we discover a vape or keys. Easier and safer this way.

Tony N avatar

Tony N

Forget about listening to music. The noise of the MRI is too loud and will drown out the music. At least the MRI has no radiation like a CT scan. And always prefer a non contrast scan since the IV contrast can be irritating and damaging to the kidneys.

Jane avatar


Thank you for pointing out that the dye can be damaging to the kidneys. I also read that it can go into the bones as well. 🥺

Kathryn avatar


Patients are instructed to change from their clothes into a gown for personal safety. It is not to inconvenience the patient or make them uncomfortable. Many fabrics today -- particularly athleisure wear with moisture-wicking properties-- have metal fibers as part of their makeup, which isn't always detected by a metal detector. When exposed to a strong magnetic field, these fibers can burn a patient's skin and cause permanent damage. By insisting that you remain in your clothes and refusing to change into a gown, you are not advocating for yourself by sparing yourself a slight and perceived inconvenience. You are putting yourself and the MRI technologist st risk of bodily harm.

Jane avatar


I have had several MRI's and have never been asked to change into a gown..also have never had a problem with that. Also, the tech is always behind a shield. I recommend that a person ask their dr. for a dose of valium before their test and wear earplugs.

Virginia Harrell avatar

Virginia Harrell

I found this information interesting and most definitely informative 👍🏾

Jennie Bee avatar

Jennie Bee

As an MRI Technologist, I feel compelled to explain the clothing/gown issue. While some people wear metal free clothing, facilities often have a policy that everyone must wear the provided gown/scrubs. This is because some athletic clothing (looking at you, lulu lemon) have silver threads in them (or coatings) that can cause burns during an MRI. So, check with your facility first. If your athletic/athleisure clothing is advertised as antibacterial or anti-odor, it likely has metallic components. Also, regarding piercings, you can swap them out for plastic studs temporarily. Hope this helps!

Mona avatar


Thanks for the MRI tips. I was worrying about some of those preparations.

Kirk B Ellison avatar

Kirk B Ellison

What about metal internally, such as, stints or pacemakers? Nothing said about these.

Carla Collins avatar

Carla Collins

I have 2 stents in my heart and was assured they would not cause any adverse reaction. They did not. Everything was good.

Jane avatar


They ask you prior to the test if you have any implants, stents, pacemaker, etc., and will not do the test if that is the case.

Kels avatar


I had to have double cartilage piercings removed twice and pierced again - after the third time of removing, I just said forget it and it's been out since. With an upcoming MRI, I'm thankful I decided to let that be a thing 1998-2012 although I kind of miss it.

Luci Giagnacova avatar

Luci Giagnacova

I have sensitive hearing so I don't like loud noise. Earplugs n music work fine to dim noise

Deta avatar


I’m getting MRI next week. I’m claustrophobic and told doctor to order me the strongest relaxation med possible. Also, I was given the choice to use a bigger even more open machine at different facility . One that’s not right in your face. I’m a plus size woman and I appreciate the information another tech gave me. I asked the MRI tech as to why more hospitals extera don’t have standing or sitting MRIs. She said, that’s a good question. I hope I make it through the procedure!!

Jo Ann Quigley avatar

Jo Ann Quigley

I have a pacemaker. The first MRI I had w pacer, I had to drive an hour away. Some pacemakers(mine) are “mri compatible” but some companies still don’t do it. I had to go where there was a tech from pacemaker maker that could turn it off for the mri. Tho’ now there are more places who will do mri w/o tech now. I wrote a letter to my usual mri office and now they will do that!! I guess everyone needed time to get use to the new pacers!

Katherine avatar


I've had quite a few MRIs over the years. Three in the last year! I've found that bringing my own earplugs makes me so much happier. I got a particular type at one location, but found out the hard way that not all of them have that brand. I hate the ones that are like cut up pool noodle! And music is a definite NO for me. Make me feel claustrophobic. Also, make sure you're not congested, that makes it hard to breath. One time, I closed my eyes before I went into the tube and didn't open them the whole time. Take the time to get comfortable.

Sussana avatar


My MRI was very comfortable and about half an hour. I wore the gown and my socks. And a warm blanket over me. I listened to calming elevator music while I was lying face down for about 25 minutes. The bar supporting my sternum and breathing were comfy. Surprising - not much noise from the short white 6 ft long, wide tube, open at both ends. I never noticed banging. I think I fell asleep. This must be a newer model. So enjoy!

Alan M avatar

Alan M

Another thing they dont tell you is how uncomfortable laying on 2 2x4 is after 5 minutes. It looks like you are laying on a Barcolounger on TV ads. Not so.

Colleen O'Brien avatar

Colleen O'Brien

For my MRI 2 Years ago, I requested "70s" music.
When " I Will Survive" played, I thought, "This is going to be OK."
My MRI was stable , no new lesions!


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