MRI Contrast FAQ

MRI Contrast FAQ

What Is MRI Contrast?

MRI contrast media, agents, or dyes are chemical substances used in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. Contrast is also frequently used during CT scans but when combined with the powerful magnets inside an MRI, it helps produce much clearer pictures than CT scans. When injected into the body, the gadolinium contrast agent enhances and improves the quality of the MRI images (or pictures). This allows the radiologist (a specialist doctor trained to examine the images and provide a written report to your doctor or specialist) to more accurately report on how your body is working and whether there is any disease or abnormality present. 

When Is Contrast Used?

MRI contrast medium is used in about 1 in 3 MRI scans to improve the clarity of the images or pictures of your body’s internal structures. Contrast dye may be used in an open MRI or closed MRI, which increases the accuracy of the MRI scanner in both. Contrast is especially common when diagnosing breast cancer, or tumors in the brain or on the spine

Before the scan, the radiologist (specialist doctor supervising the scan) will decide, on the basis of the notes sent by your referring doctor, whether gadolinium injection is likely to be helpful and should be recommended for your MRI.

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:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Brief dizziness
  • Coldness at the injection site

A very small number of patients experience allergic reactions, such as hives or itchiness, and should not receive gadolinium again. This appears to be due to a mild allergy and is not life-threatening. It usually settles down by itself within an hour or so, but rarely it might be a warning sign of a more serious allergic reaction developing. For patients with kidney disease, your kidney function may prevent contrast dye from being used since it can increase kidney issues.

Severe reactions, which might involve difficulty breathing and swelling of the lips and mouth, occur in approximately 1 in every 10,000 people who have gadolinium. These severe reactions generally respond very well to standard emergency drug treatment, similar to that given for other severe allergic reactions. These are usually medications that will be given through the tube that was placed in your arm before or during the MRI scan. All radiology facilities where gadolinium injections are given maintain stock of the medications required to treat these reactions and are equipped to administer them when needed. The administration of contrast is closely monitored by your attending radiologist, whether that be in the radiology department at a hospital or at an accredited imaging center.

Although not a reaction to contrast media, the strong magnetic field of an MRI scanner can affect medical implants that contain metal or magnets, especially in enclosed spaces. Patients with metal-containing implants such as cochlear implants (which also typically contain a magnet) need to be aware of this risk and ensure that health care providers and MR technologists are aware of their implant so that they can take proper precautions when receiving an MRI exam.

If you have any concerns about the use of gadolinium contrast material or questions about the MRI procedure, please discuss these with your referring doctor and/or the staff where you are having this procedure.

To book a scan, visit us at Medmo helps people schedule radiology imaging tests – such as MRI, CT scans, PET, and more – at nearby accredited centers and identify the payment solution that works best for them.


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