Have you just been told you need an MRI? Not sure what to expect? Well if you have a MED-EL cochlear implant, there’s nothing to worry about! We’ve put together a list of the most commonly asked questions about MRI and cochlear implants, so you can prepare yourself for your scan, and discover why MED-EL offers outstanding MRI safety.**
What is an MRI exactly?
MRI stands for Magnetic Resonance Imaging. An MRI scan is a test carried out by medical professionals so that they can see inside your body. There are many reasons why people get MRIs. It could be that your doctor wants to diagnose a disease or condition, scan your body after an accident, or maybe it’s a follow-up scan after a surgical procedure. MRIs are very common—it’s estimated that all of us will need an MRI at some point in our lifetime.
What happens during an MRI?
First, you will lie down on a stretcher, which slides into the middle of a human-sized tube. Once the machine is switched on, you will be asked to lie very still so the technician can get the best image possible. The technician will be in the next room, but they can see and hear you at all times via a camera and microphone. You will have a signal button which you can press in case you feel uncomfortable, and the technician can also come into the MRI room if you need assistance during the scan.
How long does an MRI take?
That depends on lots of things, such as the part of your body being scanned, the type of machine, and the resolution of the scan. It can be anywhere between 15 and 90 minutes—your doctor will be able to give you an idea of how long your particular scan will last.
Can I have an MRI with my cochlear implant?
YES! All MED-EL cochlear implants can undergo MRI scans at 1.5 Tesla, the low-definition scan resolution. And with our latest cochlear implants, SYNCHRONY and SYNCHRONY 2, you can even have high-definition scans at 3.0 Tesla**.
Why is that possible with SYNCHRONY series implants?
MRI machines have really powerful magnets, so powerful they could lift a car! Unfortunately, these strong magnetic forces can also pull on the small magnet in your cochlear implant. If the magnet is pulled on too much it can be ripped out of place—damaging your implant, and most likely causing you pain.
But the unique design of our SYNCHRONY series’ magnet means that it isn’t affected by the magnetic forces, and therefore cannot be ripped out of the implant during the scan.
Can I wear my audio processor during the scan?
Unfortunately not, as the MRI machine could damage your processor. The same goes for earrings, watches, hearing aids, false teeth, and any other items containing metal.
Will I feel my implant during the scan?
Most people, particularly those with SYNCHRONY or SYNCHRONY 2, say they don’t feel their implant at all during an MRI. Some people report hearing a small ticking noise during the scan. The unique design of our SYNCHRONY magnet means you won’t feel any pain or even “tugging” while you’re in the machine. If you want a first-hand account of what it’s like to have an MRI with a cochlear implant, check out Kim’s Story.
I heard MED-EL offers an MRI guarantee. How does that work?
Quite simply, our MRI guarantee covers your MED-EL cochlear implant against damage during an MRI scan. The MRI guarantee is life-long and automatically valid worldwide for all our multichannel cochlear implants since 1994.*
My friend with a cochlear implant was told they couldn’t have an MRI. Were they wrong?
Not necessarily. If your friend needed an MRI some time ago, this may have been the case. Cochlear implant technology has moved on a lot in recent years.
Alternatively, your friend might have a CI from a different company. Different cochlear implants have different MRI conditions, so an MRI may not have been possible with your friend’s implant. If you have a CI from a company other than MED-EL, you should talk directly to that company to find out whether you can have a scan or not.
I tried to book an appointment for an MRI, but was told I couldn’t have one with my CI. Help!
However amazing your radiologist or doctor is, they cannot be expected to know detailed information about every medical product available. You could be the very first CI patient they’ve ever seen, so they might not know how best to proceed.
If you are told you can’t have an MRI scan, ask your clinic to talk directly to the MED-EL team in your country. They will be able to explain which scans are possible with your cochlear implant, and answer any questions your clinic may have. It may also help to download the MED-EL Important Safety Information for your country, and show this to your radiologist or clinic.
I heard I have to have the magnet surgically removed before getting an MRI. Is this true?
Not with MED-EL, no! All our implants are approved for MRIs at 1.5 Tesla without any extra surgery to remove the magnet. As we said before, our SYNCHRONY and SYNCHRONY 2 implants are even approved for 3.0 Tesla scans, again without any magnet removal surgery required.***
This means you can simply book your appointment, and have your MRI like any other patient. There are no extra hospital visits for surgery and follow up, and no hearing downtime.
I also heard that a 1.5 Tesla MRI is good enough for most medical problems. What’s the big deal with 3.0 Tesla?
A 1.5 Tesla MRI is certainly very good, but there may be situations where a doctor would prefer a 3.0 Tesla scan, if possible. A scan at 3.0 Tesla is more detailed than at 1.5 Tesla, so the doctor can more clearly see what’s going on inside you. This can lead to a faster diagnosis, more effective treatment, or better monitoring of your condition. In the words of esteemed CI surgeon Dr Harold Pillsbury: “3.0 T is the gold standard”. Another aspect is that over the past few years some clinics have exchanged their 1.5 Tesla scanners with 3.0 Tesla scanners. So it is good if your implant is also able to withstand a 3.0 Tesla MRI.
What’s this head bandage I keep seeing pictures of on Facebook?
With some cochlear implants, a bandage needs to be wrapped very tightly around the head during a scan. This helps to keep the magnet in place if it starts to pull away from the implant.
But you’ll be pleased to hear that with MED-EL’s newest implant models, no head bandage is required! Our magnets are designed with MRI in mind, so you do not need a head bandage to keep the magnet in place.
And what about us BONEBRIDGE users! Can we get MRIs too?
Yes, it’s not just cochlear implants that get all the MRI glory. If you have a BONEBRIDGE, you can have MRIs of up to 1.5 Tesla. This is also possible with the latest generation of the VIBRANT SOUNDBRIDGE.** Like with CIs, you won’t need any extra surgery to remove the magnet, and you also won’t need to wear a head bandage.***
So let me get this right. I can have an MRI scan with my implant in the same way as a normal patient, without any magnet removal surgery or head bandage, I shouldn’t feel the implant during the scan, and my implant is guaranteed against any damage? That sounds pretty great!
Yup. That’s why MED-EL is known as “the best for MRI”.
Great Protection. Guaranteed.
Because of our long and positive experience with MRIs and cochlear implants, we’re the only hearing implant company to offer a life-long MRI guarantee. We promise to replace your implant in the very unlikely event that it’s damaged during an MRI scan.*
- Valid for all MED-EL cochlear implants since 1994
- Life-long and worldwide
- The first and only to be offered by any hearing implant company.
* The terms and conditions of the MRI guarantee can be found here.
** All MED-EL implants listed in this article are MR conditional. Recipients with a SYNCHRONY 2 Cochlear Implant may be safely MRI scanned at 0.2, 1.0, 1.5, and 3.0 Tesla following the conditions detailed in the medical procedures manual. Recipients with a SYNCHRONY Brainstem Implant (ABI) may be safely MRI scanned at 0.2, 1.0 and 1.5 Tesla following the conditions detailed in the medical procedures manual. Recipients with BONEBRIDGE may be safely MRI scanned at 1.5 Tesla following the conditions detailed in the instructions for use. Recipients with the SOUNDBRIDGE VORP 503 implant may be safely MRI scanned at 1.5 Tesla following the conditions detailed in the instructions for use.
*** Unless required for diagnostic reasons
Last updated September 1, 2021
SYNCHRONY user Joe Long was implanted a few years ago by Dr Pillsbury. Find out why MRI safety is important to him.
Find out more about how cochlear implants work and how they could help you or your child.