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Real Life Stories – What to expect at your CT scan or MRI scan

Over the last five years, I’ve had my fair share of scans and surgeries.

From my own experience, I know that when you are sent for a CT or MRI it can feel pretty daunting. I found myself searching the depths of the internet to find someone talking about it from a non medical perspective. You might be wondering what to expect in a CT or MRI scan.

@itsourremedy

Scan-xiety was really at first and I def wouldn’t have wanted to make a video but I’ve had lots of these now, so if you are due one and wondering what is a CT scan like then here you go… #ctscan #womenshealthcare

♬ original sound – Our Remedy
  • Would an MRI scan be scary?
  • Would I feel claustrophobic? 
  • What is that drink they give you before a CT scan and will I be able to drink it all? 
  • Could I stay still for however long the MRI scan takes?
  • How long will it take!?

That’s just a snapshot of my Google questions leading up to my MRI and CT scans.

what to expect in an mri or ct scan

What is an MRI scan?

MRI scanners use magnetic fields to create images of organs in the body. You lie in the machine to have images taken of the area to be assessed. Depending on the location to be imaged, the scan can last 15 to 90 minutes. 

NHS writes the following body parts that can be examined via an MRI scan

  • brain and spinal cord
  • bones and joints
  • breasts
  • heart and blood vessels
  • internal organs, such as the liver, womb or prostate gland

What is a CT scan?

CT scans use X-rays and a computer to create images of the organs, bones, and structures in the body. They can be used to diagnose conditions, monitor conditions, and guide further treatments. 

While you lie down for a CT scan, the machine doesn’t enclose your entire body. A scan takes 10-20 minutes. The NHS website explains how sometimes patients are asked to drink something with ‘contrast.’. If your scan is ‘with contrast’ you will be advised not to eat or drink anything except water prior to your scan. If the CT is without contrast you can eat and drink as normal. Contrast can be given as a drink, enema, or via blood vessels.

My MRI experience – what to expect in your MRI scan

I had to have an MRI after having an ultrasound which revealed a mass on one of my ovaries, and they weren’t sure what it was. Here is what I went through, so you can learn a little more about what to expect in your MRI scan.

I had mine via the NHS at my local hospital. It was pretty quick, as blood tests revealed my CA125 (this is their cancer marker) was raised, so it was also pretty scary too.

I didn’t really consider what it would be like to have an MRI. I had taken my mother in law to have one before, so I knew where it was and had a rough idea of what would happen. To be honest I didn’t feel overly worried about the scan itself.

I entered the room and got pointed in the direction of a changing room where I got told to remove all my clothes apart from knickers and put on the blue hospital gown. There are lockers in there, so I put my things in the locker. You also have to remove ALL jewelry. I was aware of this so I took all of mine off at home. 

Once in, I got told to lay on the bed which is outside of a very large tunnel. To be honest it’s a little bit scary, I mean it’s not awful, but I can certainly think of better things to do! 

I can feel claustrophobic so I laid down and closed my eyes and I didn’t open them once, I took my mind elsewhere! They also gave me headphones as the machines are really loud, they also communicate with you through these, as no one can be in the room with you. They can hear what you are saying and you can hear what they are saying, so it’s not worrying being in the room alone. 

I was in the tunnel for about 25 minutes, I think this varies depending on what they are scanning and how still you can stay! Okay I don’t know that for a fact but I do think you need to be pretty still… 

My MRI didn’t come back great, but that’s another story and you can read about my experience of hysterectomy, surgical menopause, laparotomy and key hole surgery if you scroll to the bottom and click the links.

I had stage 3 borderline ovarian cancer and so I have to have follow ups. For the first 5 years I have these every 3-6 months then for the next 5 years every 6 months and then yearly, possibly forever… 

what to expect in an mri or ct scan

My experience of CT scans – what to expect in your CT scan

My follow ups are CT scans, I think I have had 6 now, maybe 7. So I can confidently talk about my experience here. Here is what I went through, so you can learn a little more about what to expect in your CT scan.

CT scans are a lot quicker than MRIs. They take around 5 minutes, but there are some factors that change this. 

One of my first CT scans I got given a drink with contrast. I then had to wait around 30 mins after drinking it before the scan. This slows things down and also when prepared it doesn’t taste very nice! 

I have had 2 CT scans with this contrast drink but the rest have been with a contrast dye. This is injected via a cannula which is put in your arm. 

The start of the CT is very similar to MRI. You get given a hospital gown and told to change and then taken into another room with the person who is doing the scan. They put your cannula in if you are having the contrast dye. 

I don’t usually remove my jewelry for a CT scan but this is worth checking as different hospitals might have different rules.

If you are having contrast dye via a cannula they usually scan first and then they will communicate with you via a speaker in the room and tell you halfway through that the contrast is going in. 

They warn you about how it feels and this is what they say (and what happens!) You get a funny taste in your mouth, go a little bit warm and feel like you’re about to wet yourself! 

The sensation doesn’t last very long, maybe around a minute. I’m confident you won’t actually wet yourself but it is a strange feeling!

Even though a CT isnt a tunnel I still hate the feeling of being surrounded by something so I keep my eyes closed and let my mind take me elsewhere. I try not to worry about the results (scanixety anyone?!) and I try and switch off. I haven’t been given music in a CT but it’s not loud like the MRI is. 

CT scans are over pretty quickly… probably in and out within 10 minutes I would say. Usually after they keep you in the waiting area for 10 minutes to check you’re over but I have been fine to leave after the 10 minutes each time. 

All in all, I’d rather have a CT over an MRI! But I just let the doctors decide what I need… I mean I’d rather either, but needs must!

I hope this has helped someone!

what to expect in an mri or ct scan

More real life stories from Our Remedy

I’ve been documenting my medical journey on my blog in the hope that my experience helps others who are going through similar. Feel free to ask me anything, you are more than welcome to use our live chat, DM us on instagram or email me [email protected]

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