The use of contrast dyes in medical imaging is extremely common. Typically injected into a vein in the hand or arm during the scan, contrast is used to enhance the appearance of certain structures within the body.
Dyes are not always essential – when looking at bones, ligaments and tendons, contrast dyes are rarely needed. However, they are regarded to be very important when trying to get a good look at soft tissue organs and the process of disease itself. For imaging of the brain, spine, heart, and cancers in particular, contrast can help doctors pick up things that would otherwise not be visible. For certain conditions, contrast can effectively highlight areas of interest and help in making a more accurate, and more specific diagnosis.
Do contrast agents have any side effects?
The particular type of contrast dye used in an MRI scan is different to other x-ray based tests. In MRI, the contrast used contains a naturally occurring substance called Gadolinium, which is typically attached to other compounds so that it can be used in the human body without causing any harm. Contrast dyes are designed so that healthy kidneys recognise the contrast as something the body does not need, and excrete the agent before the complex bonds of the contrast itself have a chance to break down.
For this reason, gadolinium is generally considered to be very safe, and due to the design of modern day contrast agents, allergic-type reactions to gadolinium are very rare indeed. The vast majority of patients will feel nothing after receiving an injection of contrast and only a very small number of people will have any adverse effects.
Common Contrast Side Effects
Gadolinium contrast medium is given by intravenous injection, that is, through a small needle into a vein in your arm, either by hand injection or by an automated injector.
Gadolinium contrast medium is generally very safe. Side effects or reactions are uncommon but can occur and are not long-term.
The most common reactions to MRI contrast material are:
- Brief dizziness
- Coldness at the injection site
As with all injections, whatever the substance being injected, doctors and radiology staff are always conscious of the risks vs the benefits of performing the injection. A contrast dye injection is only ever used if certain information is required which cannot otherwise be obtained using non-contrast imaging techniques. Any concerns or questions about contrast materials should be directed to your doctor and radiology staff as soon as they come up.
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