10 Dumb Questions About an MRI for Rheumatoid Arthritis

MRI machine

You have rheumatoid arthritis symptoms in your hand?

I went for an MRI on my hand the other day – for the third time. For the two previous weeks, I showed up to discover that the MR (Magnetic Resonance) machine had broken. Of course, the third time’s a charm. I did not say charming, though.

The MRI / radiology technicians are unfamiliar with Rheumatoid Arthritis symptoms. They say the strangest things – and give the most disparaging looks. If I were not laughing, I might have cried.

A hand MRI can’t be any big deal for someone living with severe RA symptoms, right?

It took about half an hour of wrangling to get my hand exactly the way they wanted it inside the MRI machine. I was completely docile, but it was painful to lay with my right shoulder hanging off the metal edge of the table so that they could center my left hand inside the machine. And I loved having my left arm way above my head with my arm in the shape of a question mark, strapped down with Velcro. Why don’t I do this more often?

Here are a few questions about the MRI.

Some I asked aloud. Some I wished I had. Some the MRI techs asked me.

  1. That’s a machine gun right? Can I shoot back?
  2. If there are foam cushions packed around me, why am I so uncomfortable?
  3. Are you sure that this is the loudest camera you can find?
  4. Why does my daughter have to remove her tiny plastic earrings with metal hooks, but can sit right next to me with jeans that have a zipper and rivets all over them?  
  5. Why would you need an MRI for RA?
  6. So, you have no pain or anything in your hand, right?
  7. No, why would you think I’m stiff at all after being frozen in place for one hour? Gimme another hour and I’ll get up.
  8. If I let you suck that mint, promise you won’t choke so I have to do CPR on you?
  9. Does MRI stand for Most Radioactive Interrogator? Are they trying to get the truth out of my hand?
  10. Since it’s so cold in here that last year my shivering made the MRI results difficult to read, can I please get a blanket for Meaningless Result Insurance?

Seriously, as we’ve discussed here on the blog, there is a need for better tests for Rheumatoid Arthritis – not just for diagnosis, but to measure disease progression. MRI’s have some value, as do x-rays, and there is some promise in the specialized use of ultrasound which we’ll discuss in an upcoming post. However, patients who tell me they have a desire to see the disease activity with their own eyes will usually be disappointed even if they do.

Note: A more serious discussion of image tests for RA is the 3 part series on Ultrasounds for Rheumatoid Arthritis.

Recommended reading:

Kelly Young

Kelly Young is an advocate providing ways for patients to be better informed and have a greater voice in their healthcare. She is the president of the Rheumatoid Patient Foundation. Kelly received national acknowledgement with the 2011 WebMD Health Hero award. Through her writing, speaking, and use of social media, she is building a more accurate awareness of Rheumatoid disease aka Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) geared toward the public and medical community; creating ways to empower patients to advocate for improved diagnosis and treatment; and bringing recognition and visibility to the Rheumatoid patient journey. In 2009, Kelly created Rheumatoid Arthritis Warrior, a comprehensive website about RA of about 950 pages and writes periodically for other newsletters and websites. Kelly served on the Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media Advisory Board. There are over 42,000 connections of her highly interactive Facebook Fan page. She created the hashtag: #rheum. Kelly is the mother of five, a home-schooler, Bible teacher, NASA enthusiast, and NFL fan. You can also connect with Kelly by on Twitter or YouTube, or LinkedIn. She has lived over nine years with unrelenting Rheumatoid disease. See also http://www.rawarrior.com/kelly-young-press/

36 thoughts on “10 Dumb Questions About an MRI for Rheumatoid Arthritis

  • November 12, 2009 at 7:28 am
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    I saw a filler story a couple of weeks ago about using ultrasound for hands with RA. It seems to give a better look inside the hand. As I said, just one of those “health reports” all TV, newspapers, mags, “bloggers”, etc give. I have gotten where I don’t pay much attention to those things.

    Do you have the report back yet?

    Reply
  • November 12, 2009 at 3:15 pm
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    Ah, the MRI machine. We be buds, but that doesn’t mean that he makes it easy.

    My rheumatologist used her nifty ultrasound machine back in 2007 when she diagnosed me. We could see different colors which represented inflammation and get a good look at the bones too. Good validation tool.

    Reply
  • November 12, 2009 at 3:17 pm
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    O U C H !!! and lol!!! Glad you can laugh, Kelly; it helps us all keep a sense of humor!

    Luv ya, girl!

    Reply
    • November 14, 2009 at 8:21 am
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      Caysea, it’s not always easy. But it’s the best option I see… :doctor: :rotfl:

      Reply
  • November 14, 2009 at 8:18 am
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    Miss D & Lisa, yes,
    We’ll explore that ultrasound issue more soon. It’s popping up now & then in the press, but you won’t believe what I’ve found.

    Reply
  • November 15, 2009 at 1:01 am
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    If only “# Does MRI stand for Most Radioactive Interrogator? Are they trying to get the truth out of my hand?” was true because then maybe they would get the truth out of our joints and even interrogate them enough that they never want to hurt us again!! Now THAT’S how we cure arthritis, scare the pants off it! 😉

    Reply
  • November 17, 2009 at 6:43 pm
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    I have had serious problems with my hands for about the past six months. The aches are gut wrenching, but the medicines they are using seem even worse. I can’t get out of this rut..
    -Sylvia

    Reply
  • February 19, 2010 at 7:18 am
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    I had an MRI on my hand last week. The hour I spent in the “donut” resulted in 2 days of increased pain and stiffness not only in my hand, but body wide. I sure hope we get some valuable information from it…

    Reply
  • March 1, 2010 at 1:33 pm
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    Kelly, between handshakes and MRI’s, I think I’ll keep my hands in my pockets – lol!!!

    Reply
  • March 28, 2010 at 1:11 pm
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    Hi Kelly, I have my first MRI next month on both my feet, I’ve taken plenty of patients down there over the last six years, but never had the pleasure of having one! So I’m really looking forward to all the info you’ve collected on it!
    Thanks again. xx

    Reply
    • March 28, 2010 at 1:44 pm
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      Hey KP,
      Great name girl. We have several “Kelly”‘s now. :chic:

      So, what’s up with your feet? Mine were much sooner than the hands, but the hands are catching up.

      Reply
  • March 28, 2010 at 1:31 pm
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    Been there, done that. It’s awful.

    In fact, a couple years ago I had 3 in 3 weeks (I had the flesh eating bacteria in an ankle wound – fun times) Their temporary MRI room was a trailer. I rode in the little metal step elevator and they put a blanket around me because it was open to the outside and November (luckily in San Diego). The whole room was about 1 foot bigger than the machine. I felt like I was in an amusement park ride where you get in the trailer and it shakes while you watch a movie or something.

    I can’t get my hands above my head, can’t have them at my side either (shoulder pops them up.) A few weeks ago at a nuclear stress test, on the 2nd round, the technician actually used some big plastic form piece and it helped somewhat (the first 4 of 18 minutes) but he said “After 12 years, that’s the first time I thought of doing that.”

    If we can be as nice as possible to the techs, but also INSIST we need some adaptions, it may give them ideas for more people down the road after us too.

    I can’t imagine doing this when I am 70 (Lord willing I get to 70!)

    Reply
    • March 28, 2010 at 1:59 pm
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      I have had some tough ones, too. You are so right. We need to educate & speak up. It is hard. Oh, I am planning on 70 & outliving my grandfather.

      Reply
  • March 28, 2010 at 3:30 pm
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    Okay I am really off topic. But I saw where somone had said somthing about their feet. I have had several x-rays on my feet. They rhummy swears they are fine. But my toes are crossing over so bad, they are living blisters on the toe where they are rubbing against each other. Would a MRI dx better than reg x ray?

    Reply
  • May 30, 2010 at 11:40 am
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    I had an MRI arthrogram last year, they injected dye into the joint space & then put me in the joyful tube for an hour, to find out what was causing my hip pain. They’d previously done a regular MRI which didn’t give a clear enough result. I have to say the staff at Exeter hospital were wonderful, particularly the lady that did the injections. I now know that I have RA, Secondary OA and hip impingements going on in there. This technology is great but I wish they’d find a more comfortable method for those of us that can’t lie in one spot, too terrified to move for that long.

    Reply
  • May 30, 2010 at 11:42 am
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    Great info, and funny as usual, Kelly!! It’s wonderful that finally, although not perfect, new technology is being developed to actually detect inflammation earlier so earlier intervention can occur. Now-if we can get more of our U.S. docs up to speed on use of ultrasound. And I SO appreciate ALL you do, while going through all you are.

    Reply
  • July 15, 2010 at 6:31 pm
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    OMG I thought it was just me!! I had a torturous MRI the other day. I am becoming an expert since by tomorrow, I will have had just about everything MRI-ed! I had to deal with an unsympathetic tech who got annoyed she had to repeat images because I was “moving”. Well, I do have muscle spasms!! And then I got a message from my orthopedic (who ordered the test for my Nofault case) that the results were “normal”. Greeeeaaaat. So why are my joints still killing me? This website has been wonderful. I am just going for testing and am very early in the fight but RA is suspected as the culprit. Your story and testimonial has been very helpful to me! Regards, -J

    Reply
    • July 15, 2010 at 6:39 pm
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      Hi Jennifer, sounds like you are on the right track to be aggressive with tests & trying to get treatment. Glad I could help. Rough techs is a problem. They have no idea how much pain we are in & the ones I’ve met seem to think we are “acting” too much. “Normal” MRI’s on flaring joints are frustrating. I’ve heard stories of surgeries proving MRI’s were wrong. I had a friend w/ a broken bone & the xray was “normal.” Tests are good, but what the patient says matters more.

      Reply
  • January 28, 2011 at 8:52 pm
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    I just had my second hand MRI,I feel very lucky that my Rheumatologist has one for hands and knees, very small, you sit with your hand inside the machine for 1 1/2 hrs. Your shoulder is stiff and uncomfortable but not nearly as bad as your whole body. I needed the second one because my rheumatologist of 3 years said my disease was inactive..I asked how do you know since I am seronegative and negative sed rate and I still in as much pain as ever. That was my last visit with him. Now have a new doctor taking mexotreate and hoping for less pain and stiffness. Thanks for all the work on this blog.

    Reply
    • January 31, 2011 at 7:23 pm
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      That’s a long time to sit in one position Nancy, but it sounds worth it to stay out of the tube! :O

      Reply
  • October 23, 2011 at 10:40 pm
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    After years of getting no where, they finally took a MRI of both wrists. I had to lay very still with one arm over my head, and each wrist took half an hour. I had a big flare up after that, but they found RA,and since I don’t have the RA factor it was useful, but why does it have to be so painful?

    Reply
  • October 30, 2011 at 4:14 pm
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    I will refuse Amy suggestion of an MRI and go straight to the ultrasound. The rheumys should have an ultrasound machine in their offices….thanks Kelly. I feel so fortunate to have found this site.

    Reply
    • October 30, 2011 at 4:39 pm
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      Good for you to read up & find out what is best for your situation. MRI and MSUS work differently on diff joints so it can depend on the joint – and there are very few people who are trained yet in proper use of the MSUS for RA – so make sure your rheum doc sends you to the right specialist – hopefully the use of this technology will continue to improve over the next few years!! There is also nuclear bone scan which gives a pic of inflammation, if done properly – but the same issues exist about the expertise of the operator. An upcoming post on these issues.

      Reply
  • January 12, 2012 at 10:22 am
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    This is so true. My rheumy ordered an MRI on my shoulder during my last visit to the clinic. By the time it was over, I could not move my arm for anything! The technician had to physically pull my arm out and bend it over my torso so I could get up. I couldn’t feel my arm, my hand, anything! It was terrible and soooo painful! Sometimes I think the treatments and procedures are almost just as bad as the disease.

    in Texas,
    Diana

    Reply
  • March 29, 2012 at 7:53 pm
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    Well, would an mri show a difference other than an xray? Say if someone was seronegative, like I was, would it show inflammation of the joint or synovium problems unlike an xray….???

    Reply
  • April 2, 2012 at 10:13 am
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    Thanks for this information Kelly. I was wondering about all the expensive tests I have been through but receiving little treatment. They tell me I have had RA so long not much can be done, so why keep running these expensive tests…then do nothing to help me? I am an intelligent patient and learn all I can about this disease and yet they treat me like I don’t know what is best for me. I know what pain med helps and which don’t, but this new doc refuses the one and only one that helps. Instead prescribing Vicodin which does nothing but make my head hurt. Every patient is different and responds differently to the same meds, yet she won’t give me what my previous doctor found worked for me. I don’t understand and yet she sends me for more and more tests and does nothing that helps. I am about to give up. My new primary doc said he is surprised I am still alive having had this disease so long. Well, there goes my hope and determination to fight this thing. grrrrr

    Reply
  • October 24, 2012 at 3:38 pm
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    I had an MRI of the hip for RA this week. They tie your big toes together (heels pointing out), I guess it’s to get the hips at a certain angle. Boy that hurts, especially with an arthritic hip!

    Reply
  • November 12, 2012 at 5:47 pm
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    I would like to know if you can have pain in just one toe with RA. I am 22 years old diagnosed a year ago, on embrel but having al lot of toe pain. Doctor gave me prednisone pills didnt help at all, so my mom got an orthpedic surgeon to inject my toe with cortisone. Still no relief. I dont know what to do and my RA doc cant see me till next week. thanks.

    Reply
    • November 17, 2012 at 9:02 pm
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      Hi Courtney, It is certainly possible that the disease could affect only one joint for a time. It would eventually progress to affect other joints. Perhaps the Enbrel is just going a great job of suppressing your symptoms in other joints. Good luck w/ the toe.

      Reply
  • June 30, 2013 at 2:50 pm
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    Hello,
    I was reading your site. Some of the things you say are so true. We could probably bunk heads together and really have a good laugh, but also a good cry. I suffer myself from severe RA, OA, Sjogren’s Syndrome, Ankylosing Spondylitis, SLE Lupus, Discord Lupus, Acid Reflux, COPD, Peripheral Neuropathy, in other words multiple auto-immune diseases, along with Eczema, I hope this will be it for now. I had Lupus for over 35 years but I did not know about it until I had all my blood tests and it showed up then with the severe RA. I am back to walking so I sold my Revo 4 wheel scooter, but I still have my electronic wheel chair which my doctors warned me to keep. I was on every TNF medication, then my RA doctor put me on a biologic medication which I get every month by infusion for about 3 hours which keeps the inflammation down a bit. I am much older than you, but since RA is the invisible disease you could never tell that I was suffering from all of the above. But I do piliates and yoga twice a day for the last three years. RA causes so many other problems. I was just diagnosed with a heart valve problem, but it’s under watch every three months, because it’s leaking a little. Other wise I am in great shape. Good luck, take care of yourself. Live everyday to the fullest. Try not to get too stressed out from these conditions. Be happy. Sincerely, Rebecca Zaraya

    Reply
  • August 2, 2013 at 10:16 pm
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    I guess it is really useful for early RA (I was diagnosed based on an MRI, as all other tests were not conclusive and xrays showed no visible erosions). but I don’t think it would be that useful in later stages, I mean.. I don’t think you need THAT kind of a resolution when erosions are already clear in the x rays.

    I’m sorry they apparently were not very kind with you. it’s obviously an horrific test, but I’m surprised they didn’t at least give you some pillows… I know, it’s still painful and bothersome, but at least you know they’re caring a little for you 🙁

    The tech that worked where I got it done was kind. he was even surprised that I was not afraid to look while he injected the contrast, laughed about it and he treated me quite well. at least that made the experience less stressful… but not all people is that kind.

    Reply
  • September 17, 2013 at 2:29 am
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    OMG I can soooo relate to this!

    I had an MRI done on my hand and it was the WORST thing I ever did!

    Ithought Id be able to go back to work after the MRI……WRONG!!!

    It started a major flare and I was out of action for several days.

    And the stupid questions! Dont get me started on that!

    Thank you for sharing your experiences with us.

    Cheers,

    Elle.

    Reply
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