Brought to you by Saint Alphonsus Medical Imaging & Radiology, expert(s) at Medical Imaging.

What to expect from your medical imaging testing experience

Having a medical imaging test for the first time can be a little daunting. Here's what to expect on the day of your test.


A receptionist will greet you and take your name and other information concerning your health plan or insurance. Sometimes the receptionist will orient you with the imaging center or department and the personnel who take care of you and perform your imaging test.
There will typically be a brief wait in the waiting room or reception lounge prior to beginning your imaging exam.


Immediately prior to your examination, the imaging center staff or physicians (called radiologists) may take some time to explain to you what will happen in preparation for and during the specific imaging test you will have.
Depending on the type of imaging exam you will have, your preparation prior to the imaging exam will be different. You may need to prepare for the examination up to 24 hours in advance by fasting or observing some special diet, or you may be instructed to simply eat and behave normally.
Some radiology departments and imaging centers will ask you to watch a short video program prior to your examination or give you additional material to read.

You may be asked some of the following questions before having diagnostic imaging tests.
- Are you pregnant?
- Are you allergic to iodine or any medication?
- Have you had any head surgery?
- Have you ever had a heart surgery?
- Have you ever had joint surgery or replacement?
- Do you wear permanent eyeliner?
- Have you ever worked with metal?
- Do you have any metal objects implanted in you?

Please discuss any of the above issues with your physician or imaging center staff before your diagnostic examination.
Exam preparation may require different steps immediately prior to the actual imaging exam, depending on what type of medical imaging test is being performed and what internal organ or suspected illness your doctor is trying to diagnose or rule out.
For instance, you may be asked to take a special pharmaceutical contrast liquid that helps highlight the structure of your organs or any potential disease or injury.
You may be required to change into a comfortable, lightweight medical gown to allow imaging free from disturbance caused by the fabric, zippers or buttons in your normal clothes.
Immediately prior to your study, you may also be asked to remove all jewelry or watches, hairpins, hair clips or wigs, keys, coins, wallets or credit cards, eyeglasses, hearing aids and removable dental work.

Some other things to consider prior to your test include the following:
- Bringing any previous X-rays, CT scans, MRI scans or other medical images that may be pertinent to your current diagnosis and new imaging test.
- Wear comfortable, non-restrictive clothing (like a jogging suit).
- Wear two-piece clothing (top and bottom) instead of a dress or one-piece jumpsuit.
- Bring your insurance card or medical plan information.
- Avoid drinking coffee or other caffeinated beverages before the exam.

The examination

During almost every type of imaging exam, you need to try to follow these basic guidelines:
- Relax and remain calm.
- Remain as still as possible, unless instructed to move.
- Pay attention to instructions.
- Ask questions if you are not sure what you are being asked to do.

In general, the quality of the resulting images is, in part, dependent on how well you follow instructions and remain calm and still. If you feel anxious or scared, please tell the technologist or radiologist conducting the exam. They are there to help you and are concerned about your well being and want to achieve the best possible images.
One of the reasons non-invasive diagnostic imaging is used so widely in medicine is because it is largely painless and does not involve surgery.

Consultation and Release

Once the diagnostic imaging exam has been performed, you will have a short wait while the technologist and radiologist determine if the images are of appropriate clarity, sharpness and orientation. In some cases, the staff may repeat the examination, or they may run a different imaging test to gather more information.
There is minimal patient recovery for most diagnostic imaging examinations. However, some exams like X-ray angiography may require a slightly longer recovery period. If you have been given a sedative as part of the procedure, you will need to have someone else drive you home.
Prior to release and departure from the imaging center or department, you may have a brief consultation with the technologist or radiologist. This person will explain to you how the imaging exam went and what the next steps may be in your medical care.

Some tests you may have conducted include:
- Computed Tomography (CT - The fast scans allow images during breath-holding, thus minimizing respiratory motion artifacts. This technology can also be applied to the chest, abdomen, pelvis, brain and extremities. Within the gantry, a row of radiation detectors encircles the patient, while a rotating X-ray beam passes through the patient. The multiple transmitted beams are registered and back-projected so that a transaxial slice of high resolution and contrast can be generated. Newer computational techniques have made it possible to create three-dimensional renderings as well as coronal (front to back) and sagittal (side to side) plane slices.
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI - MRI, has greatly improved the sensitivity and specificity of diagnostic imaging, particularly in structures such as the liver, brain, spinal cord and joint spaces.

A great advantage of MRI is that the patient is not exposed to x-rays. The images are created with the use of strong magnetic fields, radiofrequency transducers (commonly called coils) and computer-assisted image processing. To date, no ill health effects have been reported by use of superconducting magnets or radio frequency pulses in the diagnostic range.
- Diagnostic (plain film) Radiography - Plain film radiography unifies principles of photography, anatomy and X-ray production. X-rays are produced by applying an electric potential across a tube, where electrons are boiled off a cathode filament. This electron stream strikes a rotating, positively charged target, the anode. The spinning sound one can often hear during the X-ray study is the rotation of the anode. When the electrons slow down, and when they strike the target, X-rays are produced. A person cannot feel, taste or see the X-rays as they pass through the body.
- Mammography - Also a plain-film X-ray technique, this is designed for breast examinations. The breast is placed on a film and gently pressed. The compression, although uncomfortable, greatly improves the visibility of abnormalities. Mammography, as a screening tool, has been found to save many lives.
- Contrast Radiography - A major improvement to the diagnostic accuracy of radiography has been the addition of contrast agents, which can be administered in a vein or instilled in a duct or hollow organ, such as barium sulfate in the alimentary tract.

A contrast medium contains relatively dense material of a high atomic number that absorbs more of the X-rays than the surrounding tissues, hence making the stomach, colon or vessel appear white on the X-ray film. One can then look for structural changes such as polyps, stones or ulcerations.
- Upper Gastrointestinal Series (UGI) - The UGI is an X-ray examination of the esophagus and stomach and is sometimes followed by films of the small bowel. You should arrive with an empty stomach (no food or drink after midnight). The radiologist will ask you to drink a barium mixture, which coats the digestive tract so that it becomes more visible on the film.

The radiologist views the movement of barium on a television monitor and may take several films while moving the patient to different positions. Occasionally, patients will also be asked to swallow crystals that will add gas to the UGI tract, helping to delineate the mucosal layers of the stomach. After the radiologist's examination, the technologist will take several more films and may ask the patient to drink more barium.

Information provided by Imaginis Breast Cancer Resource