Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

HEY has one of the largest Magnetic Resonance Imaging departments in the UK and we currently have four 1.5 Tesla scanners. Working over two sites (CHH and HRI), we carry out examinations from a wide variety of specialities and participate in research.

Hull Royal Infirmary is one of the largest neurological centres in the north and patients come from all over the north of England. We specialise in advanced techniques such as functional brain imaging and spectroscopy on the 3T scanner. We also specialise in musculoskeletal, abdominal and angiography imaging across both sites.

At Castle Hill Hospital not only do we carry out the usual MRI speciality work but we also have a cardiac service which is used half for NHS and half for research patients. We also provide a comprehensive prostate spectroscopy service and brachiotherapy imaging.

We look forward to welcoming you to our department.

At Hull Royal Infirmary, the MRI department is a grey and blue single-storey building opposite the Emergency Department. Car parking is available for patients and relatives. The car park is found on Argyle Street. Parking for disabled drivers is available adjacent to the MRI centre.

We are located in the main building at Castle Hill Hospital. You are advised to use Entrance 2 for car parking and access the hospital via the main reception, following the signs for the CT/MRI department.

What is an MRI scan?

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is a diagnostic scanning technique. The MRI scan uses magnetic and radiowaves to produce, without the use of x-rays, very detailed pictures of the inside of your body. The magnetic fields that are used are not known to be harmful. MRI uses a powerful computer, a very strong magnet and radio waves to produce the pictures. We will take lots of pictures of you from all angles and look at these on a computer screen. The MRI scan provides detailed pictures of soft tissues (muscles, vessels, cartilage, ligaments, nerves and fat) without obstruction of overlying bone.

You may have this scan as well as other tests as MRI scan can look at parts of your body that cannot always be seen by x-rays or other scans (e.g. CT or ultrasound scans).

The MRI scanner is made up of a very strong magnet — typically 30,000 times stronger than the earth’s magnetic field. For this reason, before you have your scan done, we will ask you to remove all metal objects. You will be provided with a secure locker for these and any valuables, e.g. credit cards, money and jewellery. Alternatively, if you have a relative or friend with you, they may look after your items in the waiting room. On your arrival in the department, you will also be asked to fill out a safety questionnaire. Help is available if you need assistance with this.

You will feel nothing from the scan itself. Some patients feel warm whilst in the scanner but there are cool fans turned on at all times.

Is it dangerous?

MRI does not use x-rays and the magnetic fields that are used are not known to be harmful. We are all exposed to many magnetic fields every day. No ill effects have ever been shown to result from MRI and it seems to be an extremely safe test.

Information we need to know about you before you have your scan

The magnets can cause movement of metal objects and interfere with the function of electronic devices such as heart pacemakers and for this reason it not safe for people with some types of metallic implants to have an MRI scan. People who have worked with grinding equipment and power tools may have metal fragments embedded in their eyes may require a x-ray of their eyes. You will be given a questionnaire and the MRI team will go through this with you to ensure that it is safe for you to have the scan.

MRI scans are very safe but if you have any of the following you must contact us before your appointment date:

  • Have you ever had an eye injury involving metal fragments or have you ever worked with grinding machinery of lathes?
  • Have you ever had a heart pacemaker or defibrillator fitted?
  • Have you ever had heart surgery or a heart valve replaced?
  • Have you ever had a brain haemorrhage? Have you had any metal clips put in as a result of a brain operation?
  • Are you over 150kg (approximately 23 stone)?

Please note: You may not be able to have a scan if you have any of the above. Please ring us if you are in any doubt.

One of the MRI team will go through a check list with you before your scan and will be able to tell you whether or not it is safe to go ahead. You may be asked further information if you have stents, other implants and pins and plates. Occasionally some implants are deemed unsafe to scan. Please bring any details you may have about implants with you to your appointment.

What does the scanner look like?

The scanner is open at both ends and is well lit and ventilated. The openings to the scanner are over half a meter wide and the scanner is approximately 1 meter deep (if you are unsure about any aspect of your scan you are welcome to telephone the department and speak to a member of staff). You may visit the department prior to your scan if you wish to see the scanner.

What happens during the MRI scan?

A radiography support worker will double check your safety form and the procedure will be explained to you (If you have any doubts or questions please ask). A friend or relative can stay with you for this.

Once you have been informed of the procedure you will be positioned comfortably on the scanner bed. Depending on the body area we are scanning you may go in either head or feet first. Generally, you will lie on your back with your arms by your side (depending on what body part is being scanned). You will be asked to remain still during the scan and given a “call” button to hold whilst in the scanner. This enables you to contact the radiographer at all times.

A piece of equipment called a coil will be placed over the part of your body we are scanning.

We have many coils for different parts of your body. If you are having your head scanned you will still be able to see out of the scanner via a small mirror.

When the scanner is working it makes very loud tapping noises. You will be given some ear protection. This will be either soft earplugs or headphones. Some of the scanners can play you music.

The radiographer will be watching you from the control room at all times during your scan. There is also a two-way speaker and you can talk to the radiographer if you want. You will be given a call buzzer so you can contact the radiographer at any time during your scan.

Depending on the scan we are doing the procedure can take between 15 and 45 minutes. If your scan is being done to look at your body, you will be asked to drink a very dilute barium solution over a period of 30 minutes to 1 hour before the scan, so you will be asked to attend earlier than you scan time and are advised to bring a book or newspaper to help you to pass the time.

Sometimes you may need to be given an injection. This helps us see parts of your body that may be difficult to see without the injection. A small needle will be placed in your arm by the radiographer or radiologist (specialist x-ray doctor). It is sometimes necessary to give an injection of a “contrast agent” (a clear substance) used to enhance the contrast of structures or fluids within the body and so improve the images taken. The contrast agent will highlight different body tissues. In this way the tissue or area that is being examined can be more easily identified on the final picture. Prior to the injection the radiographer will ask you a number of questions regarding your health.

What happens after the MRI scan?

If you have had an injection, we may ask you to stay in the department for 10 minutes after your scan. The injection (Gadolinium) has been used for many years throughout the world without any serious complications. Very rarely local stinging may occur where the needle was placed. If you experience any problems please tell a member of staff before you leave the building.

If you have not had an injection you may leave as soon as the scan is finished.

The scans will be read by a radiologist (specialist doctor) who will produce a report and send a copy of the results to the specialist who sent you for your scan. This typically takes 10-14 working days.

Can pregnant women have MRI scans?

There is no evidence that a hazard exists to either the mother or unborn baby, although as a precaution MRI is not usually performed in the first 3 months of pregnancy.

As with all diagnostic procedures, you should tell the radiographer if you are pregnant.

Although they are thought to be safe, as an added precaution, injections of MRI contrast agent (a clear substance used to enhance the contrast of structures or fluids within the body) are not given at any stage of pregnancy.

If you are currently breast-feeding please inform the radiographer before a “contrast agent” is injected so they can discuss precautions you should take.

Children / young persons related Information

We frequently scan children of all ages. It depends on the age and size of the child as to which procedure we follow. At all stages we liaise with child and parent to make this experience as enjoyable as possible. The paediatric out patient department are often involved with our appointments.


We often scan babies with a “feed and sleep” procedure. This is simply feeding the baby as normal and when the baby is asleep we will scan. We have quiet areas in the department to encourage the baby to sleep. Sometimes the baby may be on a children’s ward first and they will come down to us when they are asleep. This procedure is generally very successful.

Older babies

If the above procedure is unsuccessful the doctors may decide to sedate the child so that the examination can go ahead. This is an oral sedation. If the child is an out-patient the sedation is administered in the paediatric out-patient department. A nurse will escort the child and parents to the department when the child is asleep. If the child is an in-patient the sedation will be administered on the ward. Generally, the oral sedation will work on children under 20 kilos.

Older children

For children over 20 kilos oral sedation can be unsuccessful. For these patients our receptionists will speak to parents to establish if the child will stay still with parents in the scan room. Please note that any parent that would like to come into the scan room must complete our safety questionnaire first. Please see the section MRI Safety. The paediatric out-patient department also have pictures of the scanners and a play specialist the child and parents can visit prior to the scan. This often helps the child gain confidence in the whole procedure.

In certain circumstances all the above procedures may not be successful for imaging your child. In these situations a general anesthetic may be used. We have a specialised anesthetist who visits the department on Monday mornings for these examinations. Obviously, the decision for the use of a general anesthetic would be discussed with the parents by the referring clinician and the MRI department.

Books and Toys

There are lots of books and toys for children to play with in the waiting room prior to their examination.

One of our three scanners has a music system that allows the child to listen to music whilst in the scanner. You are welcome to bring any tape or CD for your child to listen to. It is suggested you contact the MRI department before the appointment to confirm you are going into the scan room that can play music. If your child has a favourite toy, for example, a teddy bear, it may be possible to take this into the scan room. However, the radiographer will have to check it first to establish if there is any metal inside. If this is the case the item will not be allowed into the scan room. This is for the safety of your child, yourselves and the staff.