Should you consider a whole body MRI?

Once used to diagnose disease or injury or monitor treatment, full-body MRI scans are becoming a more mainstream part of preventative care. Here’s everything you need to know about whole body MRI and whether it’s something you should consider.

When it comes to disease prevention and treatment, early detection is key. For a long time we’ve relied on regular check-ups and routine testing to catch diseases early. However, as technology improves, preventative care is getting a bit more sophisticated. 
Take magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) for example. Once used to diagnose disease or injury or monitor response to treatment, companies like Prenuvo, Q Bio, and Ezra are making full-body MRI scans a more mainstream part of preventative care—no referral needed. Popular among the quantified-self crowd, full-body magnetic resonance imaging is now being used to catch potentially concerning changes in the body that otherwise might go undetected
But what is full-body MRI exactly, and is it something you should consider? In this article, we explain what full-body MRI is, what it can show, and why you might do it. Elo co-founder, Ari Tula, also shares his experience and takeaways from his full-body MRI scan with Prenuvo. 

What is a whole body MRI?

Whole body MRI is a head-to-toe scan that uses strong magnetic fields and radio waves to create detailed images of the inside of your body.  
Usually, a doctor will prescribe an MRI scan to get a better idea of what’s happening in specific areas of your body. For example, they may order an MRI to determine the severity of an ACL tear or to screen for certain types of cancer. 
However, people are also turning to full-body MRI as a preventative measure to detect and monitor health concerns, including cancer, inflammation, bone or joint issues, and other conditions that might be treated early or prevented.

What does a full body MRI show?

A full body MRI can show changes or abnormalities in key areas of the body, including the brain, organs, spine, and joints.
In the head and neck, an MRI can show: 
  • Brain masses
  • Brain shrinkage
  • Blood clots
  • Old strokes
  • Restrictions in blood flow
  • Sinus issues
  • Abnormalities in the lymph nodes
  • Thyroid masses
  • Arthritis in the cervical spine (neck) 
  • Early changes linked to Alzheimer’s disease or stroke
In the chest and abdomen, MRI can detect:
  • Heart enlargement
  • Aneurysms in the aorta
  • Abnormalities in the kidneys, liver, spleen, adrenal glands, gallbladder (gallstones), pancreas, bladder, uterus, and ovaries
A MRI scan of the spine and joints can show:
  • Disc herniation
  • Disk degeneration
  • Spinal stenosis
  • Arthritis in the joints

How long does full-body MRI take? 

Full-body MRI takes about 60 minutes to complete. Taking into consideration the time to change clothes and perform any additional testing, you can expect a session to last roughly 90 minutes to 2 hours.

How much does a full-body MRI cost?

Without insurance, a full-body MRI can cost anywhere from $2,500 -$3,500 per visit, depending on the company and additional testing included such as genetic, blood biomarker, saliva, and urine tests. 
Because this is an elective test, it is typically not covered by insurance, however, some health savings programs may consider full-body MRI a qualified medical expense. 

Who can have a full-body MRI? 

Full-body MRI scans are available to individuals 18 years of age or older who are not pregnant and have no metal implants, pacemakers, or other devices that can conflict with the scan. 
It may also be beneficial for those with genetic predispositions to certain diseases, previous health issues, or individuals who want to be proactive about their health.

Who should not do full-body MRI? 

Because MRI machines utilize strong magnets, they are not suitable for pregnant women or individuals who have metal implants, pacemakers, cochlear implants, implanted drug infusion pumps, bone-growth stimulators, neurostimulators, and certain prosthetic and intrauterine contraceptive devices. 
Additionally, people with even mild claustrophobia may find it difficult to tolerate the long scan time inside the machine.

How often should I do a full-body MRI?

Being able to compare previous MRI results with a current scan can provide an in-depth picture of your health, including the detection and monitoring of certain conditions or abnormalities. For this reason, yearly full-body scans are typically recommended.

Does whole body MRI have harmful radiation?

Unlike x-rays and CT scans, MRIs do ​​not have harmful ionizing radiation [1]. For this reason, it is the imaging technology of choice when frequent imaging is needed, such as with preventative imaging or disease diagnosis.

Pros and Cons of Full Body MRI

As with any medical procedure, there are pros and cons to full body MRI scans. 

Pros

  • Detailed imaging gives you a picture of your health and can show changes or abnormalities in key areas including the brain, organs, spine, and joints.
  • Early detection can help you treat or prevent common diseases including cancer, blood clots, stroke, and liver disease
  • Non-invasive and painless
  • No downtime or recovery period afterward
  • No exposure to dangerous ionizing radiation as with CT scans and x-rays
  • Low risk of complications
  • Results often within a few days

Cons

  • Costly 
  • Requires you to lay still for about 60 minutes
  • MRI machines are very loud
  • The confined space of the MRI machine may be difficult for those with claustrophobia
  • You may need to fast for 4+ hours beforehand
  • False positives are still fairly common [2]

What to expect during a full-body MRI scan (Prenuvo review)

Elo founder, Ari Tulla, has often thought about whether there’s something wrong inside him. Curious about his bone and joint health and the potential for early cancer detection, Ari recently got to peek inside his own body with a full-body MRI. We asked him a few questions about his experience with Prenuvo’s full-body scan, so here’s what he had to say. 
Question: Why did you want to do a full-body MRI? 
Ari: The primary reason why I chose to go through a full-body MRI was for early detection of cancer. Our healthcare system has gotten good at treating early-stage cancer — the problem is, however, that cancers are often detected at the late stage, leading to aggressive treatments and possible early death. 
The other practical reason for me was to assess the state of my joints and bones. MRI is good at discovering possible neck and back issues and evaluating bone density. I suffered a minor neck injury surfing years ago and want to monitor the progression of my C4-C5 join over time. 
Q: Can you walk us through the experience at Prenuvo?
A: I booked the 90-minute session conveniently online. Before my session, I filled out an extensive health questionnaire. On the test day, I arrived at the Prenuvo Sunnyvale, CA, location at 10 am. It’s good to remember that one should be in a fasted state before going through a full-body MRI. 
The Prenuvo clinic resembles a well-designed spa or a modern concierge health clinic with a comfortable waiting room and snack selection. After check-in, I was guided to changing room to put on Prenuvo scrubs (pretty cool, right). Your body must have no metal inside or outside. The metal can cause severe issues during the MRI process. 
Prenuvo full-body MRI machine in room
With scrubs on, I was then guided to the MRI room, where the operator explained in detail how the system works. It’s pretty easy as you simply need to lay still on a tray that moved inside the MRI machine.  I needed to breathe when the machine was imaging my lungs and chest. 
Ari with Prenuvo full body MRI Machine
I lay on the tray. Put on noise-canceling headsets. I got a chance to select whether I wanted to watch Netflix or listen to Spotify. I opted for a chill jazz Spotify channel. It’s very cool how they had placed two mirrors that made it easy to see outside while being completely swallowed by the machine. 
After about 90-minutes, the imaging session was over, and I got to change back into my clothes. The operator said that I should expect the results in a few days.
Q: What did you learn from the results?
Ari Prenuvo MRI Findings graphic with body and systems
A: After a few days, I received an email with a link to the Prenuvo portal with my full-body MRI results. I was eager to learn whether I had any looming health issues. Luckily only three minor issues were discovered: 
First, my C4-C5 disk is still slightly narrowed from a previous surf injury.
 C4-C5 disk Prenuvo MRI Results
Second, I have minor degenerative arthritis in my lumbar spine. It could be due to the last two years of COVID and constant Zoom calls in my home office.
Prenuvo MRI results lumbar spine
Third,  I have three tiny white spots in my brain. Sounds scary, however, Prenuvo's doctor said that these are common in the 30+ age group. 
Prenuvo MRI results brain image with white spots
Q: Are there any downsides to full-body MRI? 
A: Beyond the high price, a common counterargument against the full-body MRI is possible false positives. This is a real issue that has followed every new diagnostic tool, from blood biomarker testing to colonoscopy. Due to the vastness of data, most people end up learning something about their health that they didn’t know before. Many people would rather not know of a looming illness, especially if there is nothing they can do about it today.
The MRI process is also a bit claustrophobic, and you have to lie still inside this large machine. The sound of the machine can be quite loud and annoying. Luckily the noise-canceling headphones took most of the sound away. Would I like to go through the imaging every week? No. Once a year? No problem. 
Q: Would you do it again? 
A: Yes, I will do the full-body MRI again. This was my 3rd time. The other two times, I used Q Bio (another popular full-body MRI company). I have already recommended Q Bio and Prenuvo to many of my 40+-year-old friends.  

Summary

Full-body magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a growing technology in preventative medicine that can detect changes or abnormalities in key areas of the body. Though it is costly, early detection of these changes can help you treat or prevent common diseases including cancer, blood clots, stroke, arthritis, and more. Because of this, full-body MRI may be beneficial for those with genetic predispositions to certain diseases, previous health issues, or individuals who want to be proactive about their health. Since MRI machines utilize strong magnets they are not suitable for pregnant women or individuals who have metal implants or other devices that can conflict with the scan.

Key Takeaways

  • Full-body MRI can detect changes or abnormalities in key areas of the body, including the brain, organs, spine, and joints.
  • Early detection of these changes can help you treat or prevent common diseases including cancer, blood clots, stroke, arthritis, and more.
  • The average full-body MRI takes about 60 minutes to complete and costs between $2,500-$3,500.
  • MRIs are painless, non-invasive, and require no downtime or recovery afterward. Unlike CT scans and x-rays, there is no exposure to dangerous ionizing radiation with MRI.
  • Some people may find an MRI scan to be challenging as it requires you to lay still for up to 60 minutes. The machines are very loud and may feel claustrophobic. 
  • False positives are still fairly common with MRI and may require follow-up testing depending on your results [2]. 

References

  1. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). (n.d.). National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering. Retrieved October 19, 2022, from https://www.nibib.nih.gov/science-education/science-topics/magnetic-resonance-imaging-mri
  2. Kwee, R. M., & Kwee, T. C. (2019). Whole-body MRI for preventive health screening: A systematic review of the literature. Journal of magnetic resonance imaging : JMRI, 50(5), 1489–1503. https://doi.org/10.1002/jmri.26736