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For Find Out Friday - Why Are MRI Machines So God Damn Noisy?

I live a chronic migraine life. 

It effects every aspect and day of my life; sometimes in big ways, sometimes in small.

I go for Botox injections (forty-one shots) every three months as a way to prevent my illness from taking over my life. 

In order for a proper diagnosis (initially) and due to the toxicity that is the health “care” business in this country, I have had MORE than my fair share of MRIs. 

MRI stands for Magnetic Resonance Imaging. If you haven’t been lucky enough to have one of these scans count your blessings. While it is non-invasive and does not physically hurt, for me these scans are torture. 

It takes about forty-five minutes to an hour depending on what part of your body you are there for. You lay on a narrow table that slides you into the machine. Though you are not fully encapsulated your head is surrounded by a large arch. The machine is very close to your face, much closer than any tanning bed I ever used back in the day. You can only see slivers of light and space in your peripheral vision. I am not particularly claustrophobic but after forty-five minutes I start to become anxious. 

However, that is not the worse part by far, that award goes to the loud noise!!

Once you are all situated and the test begins (you have to stay incredibly still) that’s when the noise starts. It is the loudest sound you have ever heard and as if that is not bad enough, the sound changes throughout. By the end of the test I feel traumatized; my poor head. If you ever saw the first ten minutes of Saving Private Ryan, MRI noise is worse than that.

I should note that you are provided earbuds and sometimes there is even music playing in the background. If you can hear it, you have a super talent I do not. 

One of the greatest ironies of my life is that while I was getting these MRIs to better understand my migraines, I would leave the test with some of the worst migraine pain I have experienced. 

The first time I had an MRI I was fourteen, due to a back issue. After it was over I went straight home and went to bed for the night. I was unable to go out with my friends or even eat dinner. That was about fifteen years before my migraines reached the height of their fury. Yet the noise of the machine for forty-five minutes over my body was still something that made me want to cry.

MRIs have a lot of scientific jargon used to describe how they work. But thanks to the New York Times I have an easy way to explain it to you:

“Magnetic resonance imaging produces images of the body by causing shifts in a very strong magnetic field and measuring how tissues react. Inside the scanner are coils of metal wire called gradient coils. When electricity is passed through such a coil, a magnetic field is created. Rapid pulses of electricity cause predictable changes in the field, resulting in tissue changes that can be measured and transformed into anatomic images.”

It is the changing of these pulses that create the noise you hear during the MRI. According to the doctor in this article, the noise reaches over one hundred twenty-five decimals at its loudest. That is akin to being at a rock concert which is why they give you those useless earbuds. 

Full disclosure: I have also had something called a stand-up MRI. Here you are in a half sitting down, half standing up position, with your back strapped to a chair, with a cage like apparatus over your head. Sounds fun right? 

The only “perk” is that the noise is about half that of a standard MRI. However, there are few facilities that have these types of machines and getting your insurance to cover this version can be a hassle. 

Though the reasons behind the mind numbing noise makes sense, I still dread having an MRI more than those forty plus injections of Botox. 

So I have to ask why? 

Why is it possible for people to receive a face transplant (true story) but not a semi-peaceful MRI? 


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