Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)


What is an MRI and why do I need one?

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a test that uses a magnetic field and pulses of radio wave energy (not radiation) to make pictures of organs and structures inside the body. During an MRI test, the area of the body being studied is placed inside a special machine that contains a strong magnet. It is used to find problems in many body parts, looking for tumors, bleeding, injury, blood vessel diseases, or infection.

In MS, an MRI is used to evaluate the lesion of the brain or spine to diagnose or monitor disease activity. In some instances, gadolinium (contrast) is injected into the vein so that the brain or parts of the spine (cervical, thoracic, or lumbar) can be imaged more thoroughly after testing is completed without contrast. An MRI is prescribed by your doctor periodically for diagnosis or to monitor for new lesions.

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Important Note about MRI Tests

If you change MRI locations, it is imperative that YOU provide previous scan results to the radiology center. This is the only way the radiologist or neurologist can determine if there are changes on your scan. Please ask your former location for a disk copy of your last MRI to bring to your new location.

MRI Authorizations

If an MRI study is required, you may need a pre-authorization from your insurance company to have the MRI performed. You may still have a co-payment for the MRI, even if your insurance company approves coverage for the test.

When a radiology study such as an MRI, MRA, or CAT scan is ordered, we have a central authorization support team outside of our department who will inform your insurance company of the requested study and obtain the authorization number for the test. The test will be authorized depending on the type of exam and reason for the exam. The approval process may take at least 10-14 days. Only in the case of an emergency will tests be authorized right away by our central support team. Once approved, the insurance company provides us with an authorization number and you will be notified by phone or MyUPMC that the test has been approved along with the authorization number. Most radiology centers will require that you provide the authorization number before the test can be scheduled. If your MRI is due to be taken after your office visit, please wait for authorization from our office before scheduling your MRI.

Each insurance company may authorize the test for a different length of time. For example, UPMC Health Plan will authorize a test for 6 months, but Highmark Blue Cross of Western PA will only authorize a test for 60 days. Other providers may provide only a 30-day approval. If you have not completed your testing prior to the authorization expiration date, we will have to resubmit a request with your insurance company to obtain a new authorization number.

Please let us know at least 4 weeks in advance of your test so that we can obtain the necessary authorization. If you have not received your authorization number from our office 30 days before your appointment, please contact us via phone or MyUPMC to request one or get a status update. If you complete the exam without authorization, you may be responsible for the cost of the exam.

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Why should I have my MRI done at a UPMC facility?

Having your MRI done at an UPMC facility ensures your MRI being uploaded to your chart in a timely manner so it can be reviewed at your next appointment. Also, having your MRI completed at a UPMC facility allows side by side comparison to accurately provide you with any changes from a previous MRI at UPMC. Please refer to Your MRI Results for further information.

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When does your physician review your MRI?

Your MRI is reviewed by your physician at your next scheduled appointment. Only then will you be able to see your progress and results. With the large quantity of patients being seen by our department, this is the only way to ensure you are receiving the best care possible. The only time your physician will review your MRI results without a scheduled office visit is if you are ordered an urgent MRI. If you would like to review your MRI results earlier, you are able to schedule an appointment with our physician’s assistant, Ryan Orie.

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MRI Codes

You may need to determine the cost or coverage of procedures such as MRIs that your provider may order. We have provided the codes used by insurance and billing institutions for the various MRIs that may be ordered during your visit. You can also use UPMC's Cost Estimator (1 (800) 371-8359 ext. 5) to evaluate the cost of your tests.


MRI brain with and without contrast - 70553

MRI brain without contrast - 70551

MRI cervical spine with and without contrast - 72156

MRI cervical spine without contrast - 72141

MRI thoracic spine with and without contrast - 72157

MRI thoracic spine without contrast - 72146

MRI lumbar spine with and without contrast - 72158

MRI lumbar spine without contrast - 72148

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Gadolinium Based MRI Contrast

There have been recent findings that gadolinium may remain in the body after receiving contrast. For more information, please read our article here.

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