A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan provides highly detailed images of your body by generating a magnetic field. Your doctor may recommend getting an MRI if they need to identify key structures in your body, such as your joints, blood vessels, heart, and more.
How long your results take depend on several factors, including if you are getting the MRI due to an emergency situation. Keep reading to discover when you can expect to learn about your MRI results.
How fast will you get results?
Several factors can determine how fast you’ll get your MRI results. These include:
- If it’s an emergency: You’ll usually get MRI results more quickly if you underwent the MRI for an emergency.
- Who is reading the MRI: A doctor interpret the MRI results. Often, a physician specialist called a radiologist will interpret the MRI. They may send their findings to the doctor that ordered the MRI. Your doctor may then examine the MRI themselves and make conclusions and recommendations to you.
- Why you’re having the MRI: If you are having an MRI for cancer diagnosis, staging, or treatment assessments, multiple medical specialists may need to review and consult on the MRI results. When this is the case, receiving information may take longer.
As a general rule, you can expect to wait 1 to 2 weeks before receiving information on your MRI scan results.
What could hold it up?
After you have an MRI, the radiology technician will transmit the images or notify the radiologist that the images are available via a secure method. Some facilities have a radiologist onsite who reviews the images. Others contract with radiologists who may live in different locations who view and interpret the images.
A radiologist will then write a report of their findings. If they see potentially life-threatening findings, they will immediately notify the doctor or facility who can help the patient. If they don’t see anything that looks like an emergency, they will send their report to the doctor who ordered your MRI.
The doctor who ordered your MRI receives the report and views the images, too. They will decide if they agree or disagree with the radiologists’ findings. They may seek out another opinion from an additional medical specialist.
The doctor will present the MRI findings to you either over the phone or at a follow-up appointment.
Generally speaking, the radiologist, doctor, and other medical professionals are all busy. Reading and determining MRI results may not take long to do in terms of time commitment, but may be a longer process based on other duties that the doctor has.
How it works
An MRI generates magnetic fields that bounce off a person’s body to generate detailed images. The scan is painless and can take anywhere from 15 to 90 minutes depending upon what the MRI is scanning.
To get an MRI, you’ll lie on a flat bed that has a round, tube-like structure. The bed will move in and out of the tube to allow the MRI to obtain needed images. An MRI can be noisy because of the work the MRI makes to generate a magnetic field. You will usually receive ear plugs or headphones with music to help make the process less stressful.
Sometimes, you will receive intravenous (IV) contrast dye. This dye is injected intoyour veins and goes to areas that are highly metabolically active, which increases the image’s brightness. This could help your doctor identify abnormal areas, such as cancerous tumors.
For the most part, MRIs are not performed as an emergency. Often, you’ll go to an imaging center to undergo the MRI. However, you may also undergo an MRI at a hospital.
Why you might get an MRI
There are many reasons you may need to get an MRI. Here are some of the most common scenarios, along with when you can expect to hear results.
- Why you may need it: A doctor may order a brain MRI to diagnose or rule out certain medical conditions, and to consider how effective treatments are. These may include brain tumor, stroke, headaches, and other related conditions.
- How long it takes: About 30 to 60 minutes, but may take longer if a technologist administers IV contrast.
- Who reads the results: A radiologist and the doctor who ordered your MRI. Sometimes, a doctor may consult with other neurologists, radiologists, or oncologists if you have a brain tumor.
- Getting results back: In a non-emergency setting, you may wait 1 to 2 weeks for results. In an emergency setting, such as a brain bleed, you will usually receive results as quickly as possible.
- Why you may need it: A doctor may order a knee MRI to view the knee joint for injury, tumors, or long-term arthritis damage.
- How long it takes: About 20 to 30 minutes.
- Who reads the results: A radiologist and the ordering doctor, such as an orthopedic specialist.
- Getting results back: You’ll typically wait about 1 to2 weeks for results between the time when you undergo the MRI to when you see your doctor.
In the ER
- Why you may need it: There are a number of medical conditions where you may need an emergency MRI. This could be the case if you’ve experienced an accident or sudden onset of serious symptoms, such as extreme pain or paralysis.
- How long it takes: Dependent upon what the MRI is scanning.
- Who reads the results: A radiologist, emergency medicine doctor, and any other specialists as needed.
- Getting results back: A doctor will read an emergency MRI as quickly as possible.
For an urgent matter
A doctor may order an urgent MRI for a number of conditions. You should ask how long the results for the MRI will take to return. For example, you may ask if a radiologist is in-house or on-call to read the MRI or if the results may wait until the next day.
When to call your doctor
Ideally, when your doctor orders an MRI, they should tell you how long it will take to obtain results. You will typically go to a follow-up appointment to review not only your results, but also the treatment options relevant to the MRI findings.
If you have a concern that your MRI revealed something that needs to be treated urgently, you can call your doctor’s office. However, if a radiologist identifies emergency findings, they will usually contact you. This is especially true if you require immediate treatment.
The bottom line
MRI results can vary in the amount of time it takes to receive them. When your doctor orders the MRI, you can ask how long it will take to learn your results. You may want to ask who will read the MRI and if (or when) you will receive a copy of the MRI report.