What Are the Most Common MRI Side Effects?

An MRI scan of the brain.
MRI side effects are typically minor, and the diagnostics benefits far outweigh the risks.
There are relatively few side effects of an MRI.
An MRI machine.
Medical professionals use MRI machines to diagnose internal maladies.
The brain is relatively unaffected by an MRI.
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  • Written By: Tara Barnett
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 11 October 2014
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The most common MRI side effects are those related to lying in a small space for a long period of time and may include dizziness, backaches, and fatigue. More serious side effects may occur as a reaction to any contrast medium used for the MRI. In very rare circumstances, if a piece of metal is in the body, the MRI machine may force the object to move within the body, causing serious damage. This is a very rare side effect, as there are stringent precautions in place to protect against this kind of accident.

Commonly, people experience MRI side effects that seem to be caused by the effects of magnetic resonance imaging but are in fact caused by lying very still for long periods of time. The dizziness and backaches reported by some patients are almost certainly caused by lying still on a hard surface for an hour or more. Fatigue after an MRI is often caused by the stress related to the taking of the images, which can be more tiring than is apparent during the procedure. MRI side effects such as headaches are often related to the loud noises one hears during an MRI and are more common for people who also experience migraines.

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Some people experience mild MRI side effects usually resembling an allergic reaction when a contrast medium is used. Very serious MRI side effects can occur when a patient has severe kidney failure and is exposed to a contrast medium containing gadolinium. This side effect is a disease called nephrogenic systemic fibrosis, which is incurable and sometimes fatal. It is relatively unlikely that one will experience this side effect, as renal failure is usually identified prior to an MRI involving gadolinium.

Very rarely, iron in the body will cause painful MRI side effects. Ferromagnetic objects can move forcefully from any position near an MRI machine. If they are inside the body, they can cause major harm to internal organs. A person with metal fillings in his or her teeth may feel slight tingling, but minor dental fixtures are usually not problematic for the procedure.

The most common side effect of an MRI appears to be an elevated sensitivity to possible health problems. An MRI machine is a stressful and often unfamiliar piece of technology, and many people become very concerned about sensations that would normally not be considered worrisome. Perceived tingling or dizziness that normally goes unnoticed or any sensation of pain becomes a source of major concern. The perceived possibility that there have been major side effects causes symptoms of panic as well. These side effects can be avoided by talking with a trusted doctor and recognizing that an MRI is a very safe procedure.

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anon973335
Post 40

Interesting to read the comments. I had an MRI of my lower back last night at 10 p.m. During the 20 minute procedure, I had no problems. I received no dyes or injections. Indeed, I expected to feel more claustrophobic, but there was a convenient fan blowing air through the tube, and I had ear protection on (plus, I'm a drummer, so loud percussive sounds are not really foreign to me).

During the longer "sessions" when the machine was imaging, I did feel heat where my back touched the table, through the towels/cloth. It was not painful, but felt like a heating blanket. It was actually a bit pleasant (given that I was having the MRI for back pain, and heat feels rather nice.)

I got up from the table, asked the technician a series of questions because the whole concept was new (and kind of interesting) to me and then drove home.

The next morning I awoke at a normal time, but I was quite dizzy. I didn't feel nauseated, but I stumbled to the bathroom and almost fell over while unloading the dishwasher. My symptoms were sufficiently bad and persistent (several hours,) to have me investigate if it was common for others.

I'm hardly a hypochondriac, and I hate admitting to health concerns, but I do feel relieved to hear that others have suffered some dizziness after the procedure. Real or perceived. It is now 4 p.m. the following day, and I'm feeling OK, but still not perfect.

anon967473
Post 39

I enjoy getting MRI's. I have had about three of them: one of my head for migraines, one of my leg when I tore the calf muscle and today, on my lower back from getting in a car wreck. They seem to relax me. I start to doze off within a few minutes but stay in a semi-awake floaty stage. All the joints that hurt and ache ease off and I feel tingly in those areas and my back gets warm. The only thing I hate is how even with a blanket, my arms and legs get cold.

anon965394
Post 38

I had an “open" MRI today, and I didn’t think it was all that “open.” Yes, you’re not in a tube, but you’re still in between two round donut things and it was still a little claustrophobic.

No one tells you about the different noises the MRI machine makes. For example, one noise is like a jackhammer; one is like a heart beating; one is a robotic deep voice repeating “taking a picture” over and over! You really have to pay attention to hear it, but you will hear it if you do.

My MRI was for a mass in my arm, and during and after the MRI the mass ached. For about an hour after the MRI, the mass ached worse than it ever had before!

I also felt a little nauseated after the MRI, but I believe this is from the loud noises the machine makes. Loud noises can cause nausea.

Lastly, I felt a lot of heating in the uterine area. I thought that was odd as I am menopausal.

anon963587
Post 37

Anyone still feeling this way?

anon963456
Post 36

I had an MRI yesterday on my brain and full thoracic spine. It made me motion sick for hours afterwards. I have always had motion sickness, even when I was a kid, and this is exactly how it felt.

I am guessing an MRI can upset the fluid in the inner ear, and more so maybe for those already susceptible.

If you're in the same boat and you feel sick, even after leaving the hospital, lying down seems to help. Also, try not to move your head around quickly or include to much visual input, like say, the TV, PC, etc.

Some people seem to report some other strange symptoms also, but those were not part of my experience, although I did also get extremely hot.

anon959445
Post 34

I had an MRI on my pelvic region. I thought I would be a big girl and do it, even though I was very nervous. It turned out to be the most horrific experience of my life!

I am a large woman and it was a tight fit. I had a sedative given to me first, but it did not help. I panicked some at first but then calmed down and went on with it with my eyes closed and arms up over my head, holding a stop button in my hand. The assured me they would stop when I pressed it, but they did not!

I spent nearly an hour in the machine and I got very hot and sweaty and felt like I could barely breathe and my arms were numb and going to sleep. I thought I was going to pass out before someone finally came and got me out! They wanted to do more "with contrast" that the doc ordered, but I said no more!

I was totally traumatized and cried all evening afterward! I even had to go to the ER that night for pain in my back! If I ever have another MRI it will have to be an open one.

anon958350
Post 33

Yesterday, I had an MRI done on my neck, and it took 21 minutes. I kept my arms down by my side, and my eyes closed and prayed the whole time I was in there.

Within the first five minutes, I could feel heat on the back part of my neck and radiating down to my shoulders. It wasn't painful, but I could definitely feel it. I just kept on praying to God to protect me and keep me safe and to send his loving angels to hold my hands and comfort me.

After the procedure was done and I was pulled out of the machine and opened my eyes, I realized that my sight was very blurry. I have moderately bad vision (nearsighted), but man, I had a really hard time seeing clearly until I got back into the dressing room and put my glasses back on, but, even with the glasses on, my vision was still very blurry for about an hour or two. I was a bit dizzy, but didn't experience any burning or any pain, thank goodness. This was about my third MRI, and I refuse to ever have one done again, not unless I have a brain tumor or cancer.

anon954644
Post 32

I had an MRI scan on my jaw area. Less than 48 hours later, my tongue started tingling and felt numb. Then the skin on the inside of my lower lip started to become sore. Over the next six weeks, all this worsened and my tongue swelled and I became sensitive to spicy or acidic foods where my lip would flare up red and sore and my tongue was extremely painful. It's nearly seven weeks later and this is still going on. the doctor said it is probably a virus or vitamin deficiency, but she didn't dismiss that the MRI could have been the cause.

pamwagg
Post 31

I love MRI's -- the closer to my brain, the better. I am serious, I am not joking. Whenever I have had a brain MRI, I almost immediately started to float out of my body, one, and two, I experienced having synesthesia, where the sounds became visual and I could see the sounds and vibrations as distinctly different shapes.

MRIs regularly induce blissful states in me, so long as they are of my brain or near it. When I had an open MRI of my knee, I did not experience this, but a closed MRI of my left shoulder reliably induced a floaty, blissful state. I am sorry that MRIs seem to induce such fearsome and awful experiences for other people and I do not know why this is. I have had bad nausea with contrast mediums, but other than that, nothing bad ever happened that changed this bliss inducing experience I have nearly every time.

In fact, I wonder if I would also like Transcranial Magnetic stimulation, since I like the MRI so much, but I don't know.

anon940287
Post 28

I had an MRI brain scan at the ER. They shot me up or something while I was inside the machine, supposedly with ink. Then I woke up with my limbs feeling extremely cold and the rest of my body feeling an extensive rush, while still inside the machine. I couldn't tell them, "That's enough, that's enough." I didn't have a get me out button or anything, but my side effects are randomly rare. I thought I'd let you guys know.

anon937490
Post 27

I had an MRI done today for neck pain and difficulty swallowing. I had it with and without contrast. The one I had without contrast was fine. But when I had the contrast injected, I got this sick feeling in my stomach and started gagging and felt like I wanted to throw up.

The gentleman giving the MRI assured me I was O.K. and suggested that I take deep breaths and relax. Three hours later, I still feel sick to my stomach. Hopefully this feeling will pass after I get a good night's sleep.

anon934959
Post 26

I have had four MRI procedures and in each one my bones felt like they were on fire and I felt sick to my stomach.

anon934253
Post 25

I had an MRI on my brain last fall. A few hours afterward, my scalp was sweaty, but I wasn't sweating anywhere else on my body. Just on my scalp. Every so often now I have that happen, like right now. It's very strange. By the way, the scan showed no abnormality.

anon934246
Post 24

I had an MRI on my left shoulder in February. This was my second attempt at having one because the first attempt ended as soon as it began.

I had a an extreme hot flash as I was being inserted head first into the machine. I was told it would be cool while the procedure was being performed. I opened my eyes to see my nose almost touching the ceiling of the machine. I panicked and hit the Get Me Out button repeatedly.

This last MRI was in a roomier machine. For some reason, I couldn't stand the headphones on my head and opted for the ear buds. That machine was like someone was jackhammering on my invisible helmet! I almost pressed the panic button at one point because my shoulder was reacting weird. I was having spasms and bad cramping. Then the voice over the speaker said, " Two more tests. Four minutes to go," so I sucked it up and completed the test.

Let me just say it has been a week since the scan. My shoulder is still sore, as are my neck muscles leading up to my head, and feels like it has been in a contracted state since. I'm still waiting on the results of my test. Good luck.

anon927291
Post 23

I had an MRI this week. I was fine when I went in but when I came out I was really dizzy. I went and set in my car for a few minutes then took back roads home, just in case I had to pull off.

By the time I got home I almost fell in my kitchen I was so dizzy, sick at my stomach and not sure where I was even at. I have been lying down and slept now for three days. I am some better today, but still not 100 percent the same. Has anyone else had this happen? I did not have contrast and spent about 20 minutes in the tube. I am afraid this will leave me feeling like this. What is going on here?

anon360156
Post 22

I had an abdominal MRI/MRCP on a high-field 3T machine yesterday and regret that I had it done. I went in feeling well and now I am in pain.

The scan took about an hour. The first 30-40 minutes were fine, but at one point, I started feeling a pulling force, intense heat and growing burning pain in my internal organs with each new pulse/signal of the machine (when they tell you to hold your breath). All these sensations stopped during the last part of the scan when contrast was used.

Two days later I still have a burning pain in my abdomen that radiates to my back. I picked up my report today, which is fine, and talked to the radiologist. He dismissed me saying that MR technology doesn't generate heat. I don't know who to talk to now. I am very concerned about the level of damage that was done and short-term and long-term consequences.

anon358888
Post 21

I just had an MRI on my wrist today. It took close to an hour, as they said I kept moving, my wrist was strapped too tight and the circulation to my fingers was cut off. They had to start over again. The last eight minutes, I was getting very nauseated, sweating and had back and shoulder pain. When I got off the table I had a headache and felt disoriented. It took 20 minutes before I felt safe enough to drive to work. The headache is continuing this afternoon.

anon354294
Post 20

I am supposed to have an MRI today for a shoulder injury to see if I have a torn rotator cuff. I developed hives (unassociated with the shoulder problem yesterday and went to the doctor. He gave me prednisone and the hives seem to go away. However this morning I awoke to a whole new batch of hives in my extremities where they hadn't previously been. I am concerned if I should have the MRI today. Please advise.

scotney
Post 19

I had my first MRI yesterday as I have a lump on my neck/cervical spine. Although the experience was a little claustrophobic and noisy, I didn't think it was too bad and I was only in the machine for about 30 minutes.

Not sure if what I experienced afterwards was due to the MRI or not, but I did come over feeling very nauseated in the evening and went to bed early, only to wake up a couple of hours later being sick. Apart from that and a little initial dizziness, my MRI was OK.

Has anybody else been sick after one of these examinations?

anon352439
Post 18

I've had quite a few MRIs over the past five years for severe back problems. The next to last one I had took an hour and 15 minutes. My arms were crossed. I kept getting shocks between my hands and half way through, my insides felt like they were heating up. I had ho problems afterward.

I just had another for my neck. Again, half way through, I started feeling like my insides were heating up. Then, with my eyes closed, I started seeing bright flashes in my eyes. It was getting worse. I was about to hit the panic button when it ended. I got up, very, very dizzy and didn't know how to leave the building. I was lost.

They showed me the main entrance and I went to my truck and sat for a while until I got my composure back. For the next few days I would see the flashing on and off, then it finally ended. The technician said from time to time they got reports of the shocking between hands when placed on the chest. After this last one, I never want to do it again.

anon347900
Post 17

I had an MRI in March 2013 for my shoulder. I had been taking medications for a week before the test (65 mg iron (325 mg ferrous sulfate a day), (naproxen 500mg), (cyclobenzaprine 10 mg), (tramadol hcl 50 mg), (ic omeprazole dr 20mg), (ic atorvastatin 80 mg) and (nitrostat 0.3 mg mix) resulting in an impacted stool. I weigh 220 pounds and the mri was for my shoulder.

They wrapped a strap around my waist to hold the square lead to my shoulder and put towels on my side so I wouldn't get burned and put me in the tube. I may have crossed my legs when the machine went on.

I felt intense heat in my belly area and pressed the button to get out. I told them what I felt. They said they didn't know what I meant. It's gotten worse and I can't eat or drink and have terrible gas pains they think I'm nuts.

I think I had internal (rf) heating from the crossed legs and the meds with the iron. I was fine until I had the MRI. Can someone find out and help me? I've lost 40 pounds since then and I'm getting weaker and dehydrated no matter how much I drink and eat, which is very painful. This is no joke. I have a family and they need me.

anon347360
Post 16

I just had an MRI about 12 hours ago yesterday night and this morning I woke up feeling very uncomfortable, stressed and fatigued. Anyone else feel the same?

anon347090
Post 15

I had an MRI scan of my hand yesterday and I got red sore eyes afterwards too (but do not wear contacts).

I was told it was highly unlikely I could get this from a scanner. It could be the pillow they gave me to lie on that has given me conjunctivitis!

anon338053
Post 13

I had an MRI on Friday and I was wearing my contacts. I was not asked or told not to wear them and when I came out, my eyes were extremely red and sore. Also, I experienced pain in my body. I was there for 45 minutes. Finally, I think it did something to my period. I was supposed to start on Friday and I am like a clock but although I have had some spotting and cramps, it has not come yet. There are no chances of me being pregnant, just in case you are wondering. Anyway, I thought I would share.

anon332686
Post 11

I had an MRI this morning for pain in my neck that I have had for many months. I did not need any type of dye used. But, after I got home I had soreness in my ribs. As the day has gone on I also have a very sore back. My MRI only took about 20 minutes so the cause of any pain should not be because of being on the MRI table for a very long time. I take it that the procedure is a little like being hit over and over with pulse waves. Hope tomorrow I feel better.

anon330182
Post 7

I have had an MRI on my knees and ankles. I am always experiencing a hot, burning feel. Today I had an MRI on my back for scoliosis, which is bothering me worse after hip replacement and knee surgery for a meniscus tear. I had tears falling down my face during the procedure. When it got to my lower back, the hot, burning sensation got so intense I wanted to scream. Is it just me, or does this procedure cause a heating of the body part that is injured to get so flipping hot, it feels like a burn?

anon317861
Post 6

It can cause permanent loss of taste and smell. I would recommend never having a brain MRI unless you are potentially fatal and going into surgery anyway.

My case is rare. I was put through the MRI with no hearing protection, and told after I shouldn't have had my hands on my abdomen. It is unclear if my disability was caused by the sound, heat, electrical shock zapping through my head and jumping across my finger tips, or the magnetic shifting of fragile brain cells (even though this was a month after full recovery).

anon317388
Post 5

I got my first MRI four days ago, with contrast, in my shoulder. I had the first migraines of my life, that lasted four days -- in the back of my head. I had to go to the ER last night. I thought I was going to have a stroke, it hurt so bad. What?

anon313036
Post 4

I am also disappointed that no serious clinical or epidemiological investigations seem to have been conducted on pain during and after MRIs, with any complaints being written off by medical professionals as "perceived" or psychological.

I have no aversion to small spaces, am perfectly happy to lay flat and still for long periods and even pride myself on a high pain threshold. Furthermore, I have no problem with the varying, persistent and loud "techno music-style" thumping that accompanies the MRI process.

My 30 minute MRI (brain scan) this morning was excruciatingly painful. As different series of imaging was conducted (as indicated by the pauses and changes in emitted sounds), the pain migrated to different areas. These ranged from throbbing in my temples, sharp pains in my neck running down my left arm to my thumb, pain in my chest, severe nausea (so much so that, at one point, I had to announce out loud that I thought I would vomit) to pulsing/throbbing in my eyes (which persisted for two hours after the MRI) and pain in my jaw. I actually called out in pain more than once.

The amused medical technicians, gently laughed when they came in and said "Oh dear, it was just in your head, there are no side effects". This was before the contrast injection (after which I endured another 15 of the "painless" MRI).

Still shaking, I went home as quickly as possible to take a nap and just awoke a few minutes ago to itchy hives all over my body.

Given my potential diagnosis bringing about the MRI in the first place, of course, I needed to do it. However, I think it is negligent for medical professionals to write this off and, had someone prepared me in advance (i.e. stating that an extremely small proportion of the population experiences pain from this procedure), I would have been able to handle the whole thing a lot better.

There are countless testimonials online of MRI patients experiencing similar events. Medical professionals need to be a bit more professional about this sort of thing and not write us off as wackos. Of note (to me anyways), this is the first time in my life I have ever posted anything on the internet.

anon307941
Post 2

I had an MRI this afternoon for neck/shoulder and arm pain. It lasted only about 20 minutes and within the last 10 minutes I started feeling extreme muscle pain in my neck/shoulder and arm. Also, my arm felt warm at first but in the last 10 minutes it started burning. The noise didn't bother me. I had my eyes closed the whole time so I wasn't feeling closed in. No contrast dye was used.

It was not caused by lying there very long, since the whole procedure took 20 minutes. The MRI was 10 hours ago and I'm in more pain now than I was before I went in. Please don't call this "perceived" pain. Some people actually do have true pain during and after this procedure.

anon130055
Post 1

I am alarmed by the effects of an MRI I had yesterday. Burning ears, brain numbness, feeling vague, and like my brain had been 'cooked'. I am now notably more deaf. My ears ache.

I am upset that there is no really good investigation of the side effects I can be referred to. No professional warned before hand of what to expect or what the procedure entailed. If I had known I would not have had it done.

This was prescribed for investigation of a shoulder injury. My whole body went in to the scanner when I had thought I was just having my shoulder examined only. I am extremely upset and angry that I was not informed before hand of the dangers involved. H.Ross

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