What not to wear during an MRI

August 6, 2018 Providence Health Team

Several news outlets reported a young girl experiencing second-degree burns after entering an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scanner. Those burns were caused not by the machine itself, but by the reaction the MRI had with the athleisure top she was wearing.

Many athleisure brands, such as Lululemon Athletica, produce garments made with metallic fibers. The fibers are sewn into the garments to prevent shrinkage during exercise and washing. However, since the fibers are mostly made from silver, the machine’s magnetic field turns them into a magnet causing them to move and heat up rapidly. This can lead to light to moderate burns and an overall unpleasant trip to the hospital.

Unfortunately, this case was not the first to be reported. In the past, patients were unaware of the risks associated with their clothing choices and chose to be comfortable during their exam. In recent years, hospitals have imposed policies limiting the type of clothing allowed during such exams — some have even banned athletic clothing in general. Although it’s difficult to know for sure if your athletic clothing is made with metallic fibers, you can always research the clothing online or speak to the brand directly. To be safe during your next MRI scan, here’s what you need to know:

Educate yourself beforehand and follow instructions. Ask your doctor or the MRI staff what you need to know, what to expect and if they have written materials or other information that answers frequently answered questions and helps you prepare before your appointment.

Choose your clothing carefully. Because of the serious reaction workout clothing has to the scanner, radiologists suggest that patients opt for clothing made from cotton fabric, or paper hospital gowns. Beyond this, it’s important to make sure that your clothing is free from metal zippers, buttons, and fasteners. This includes bras with underwire.

Check for metal in your body. The strong magnetic field will pick up anything metal, not just those fibers found in your clothing. Let your doctor or radiologist know if you have any of the following:

  • Artificial heart valves or pacemakers
  • Cochlear implants (hearing implants)
  • Metallic implants or prosthesis
  • Shrapnel or bullet wounds
  • Vascular stent or stent graft
  • Dental implants such as metal crowns
  • Any history of working with metal

Your doctor will recommend the best and safest course of treatment or modify your exam to accommodate your situation.

Leave the accessories at home. Your purse or wallet may have metal wires and may contain coins, keys, and other metal objects. Besides leaving these items at home, your technician will most likely ask you to leave any metal jewelry, including watches and rings, outside of the exam room. Other items to avoid bringing with you are:

  • Hairpins
  • Eyeglasses
  • Belts, belt buckles
  • Cell phones and electronic devices
  • Credit cards with magnetic strips

Don’t overlook the less obvious. Did you know your makeup also contains traces of metal? Metal is found in most mineral makeup including blush, eyeshadow, lipstick and nail polish. Err on the safe side and go into your appointment fresh-faced. MRI can also interact with pigments in certain inks, so it’s especially important to speak to your radiologist to find out if your tattoo will put you at risk.

Check for padding to prevent body parts from touching. Skin-on-skin contact points during an MRI can create a closed circuit that produces a thermal effect and has been reported in rare cases to cause second-degree burns.

Before your MRI exam, speak to your radiologist or doctor about best practices. You’ll want to learn all you can about how to stay safe, calm, and confident during this procedure.

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 This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.

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