Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is a non-invasive imaging technology that produces three dimensional detailed anatomical images. It is often used to detect and diagnose diseases, and monitor treatment. A pacemaker is a small device that’s placed under the skin in your chest to help control your heartbeat. It’s used to help your heart beat more regularly if you have an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia), particularly a slow one. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has long been considered dangerous for people who have electronic heart devices like pacemakers and defibrillators implanted in their bodies but it is not always ruled out as an imaging option.
If you have an implanted device such as a pacemaker, heart valve, stent, you’re probably aware that your device, which contains metal, interacts with any detector that responds to metal, such as an MRI scanner. Patients with pacemakers or those that have any sort of metal implanted in their body are probably concerned about receiving an MRI and what effects or limitations it may have on your body.
How does an MRI work?
Unlike CT scans, which use X-ray imaging to get a cross-sectional view of your body, MRI machines use magnetic resonance to create a strong magnetic field that reacts with different materials including metal. To obtain an MRI image, a patient is placed inside a large magnet and must remain very still during the imaging process in order not to blur the image. Contrast agents, also known as contrast dyes or contrast materials (often containing the element Gadolinium) may be given to a patient intravenously before or during the MRI to increase the speed at which an image is produced. Contrast agents will have no effect on pacemakers.
Older implanted cardiac devices (which include both pacemakers and defibrillators) can be damaged by an MRI scan. The powerful magnets can trigger changes in a pacemaker’s settings, and this may pose a risk for certain patients, such as those who are completely dependent on their pacemaker. Because of the electricity used in an MRI scanner, the metal leads in pacemakers and defibrillators can heat up while touching your heart. Doctors warn that if the heart muscle is heated or even potentially burned, it could turn into scar tissue or even lead to heart failure.
There are different types of pacemakers on the market that produce different reactions when inside an MRI scanner. When you get an implanted device such as a pacemaker or defibrillator, you receive a card identifying that device. It includes the manufacturer, model name and model number, a website and a phone number to call with questions. It’s important to keep track of that card to give your doctor and medical imaging technician to perform the scan safely.
Some manufacturers have developed some pacemakers and defibrillators that can be scanned with an MRI. These devices are not known as “MRI-safe” pacemakers but rather, “MRI-conditional” or “MRI-compatible”. While patients with these devices can receive an MRI, there are some limitations such as how long a patient can be scanned for and the kinds of images produced.
It’s important to discuss any further questions or concerns you may have about getting an MRI with a pacemaker with your physician and imaging technician.
To book a scan, visit us at Medmo.com. 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.