What is a Contrast MRI?
So, you’ve received a referral from your doctor for a Contrast MRI. You may have heard of or received an MRI in the past, but you’re unsure as to what exactly a Contrast MRI is and how this will affect your experience. Don’t worry – a Contrast MRI is a common procedure that can safely diagnose issues so you can move forward with medical care.
What Makes A Contrast MRI Different?
A Contrast MRI differs from other MRI procedures because it involves the injection of a contrast dye, containing Gadolinium, before the procedure. This dye, which is safe for medical use, helps to increase the contrast on the images and contributes to a clearer image. Clearer images with better contrast make it easier to evaluate if there is anything abnormal in the tissues.
Contrast MRIs are sometimes ordered when other imaging tests are inconclusive. The injection process is simple – the contrast dye will be injected into your arm with an IV. After the MRI is complete, you’ll have the IV removed. If you are having a contrast MRI of a joint (this is called an arthrogram), the contrast is injected directly into the joint space and the needle is removed before the MRI. The dye is filtered by your kidneys into the urine over the next 24 hours. If you have issues with your kidneys, talk to your doctor before a Contrast MRI to make sure that it is the right test for you.
Why Order A Contrast MRI?
Contrast MRIs are requested in specific situations when a regular MRI is less likely to provide a clear answer. One of the most common scenarios that we see at Access MRI is an MRI of the spine for a person with a history of back surgery. In this situation the contrast makes scar tissue appear brighter on the images, which helps to differentiate normal post-surgical scarring from recurrent or residual disc herniations. We also commonly perform contrast MRIs for scanning abdominal organs when there are specific abnormalities on other imaging tests, and for evaluation of the brain in certain situations. Most pituitary gland MRI is performed with contrast material injection.
Most people referred for an MRI examination do not need a contrast MRI and will not benefit from the injection of contrast. Contrast is only offered in situations where there may be a benefit to the patient. At Access MRI every request for MRI is reviewed by a specialist physician (a radiologist) before the MRI is scheduled. This ensures that the right MRI examination is being performed and that contrast is offered when there is an expected benefit and is not offered when it is not expected to be helpful.
How to Prepare for a Contrast MRI
Generally, no preparation is required. You can eat, drink and take your medications as you normally would before your MRI. If you have any anxiety about needles or being in an enclosed space, your doctor may prescribe you anti-anxiety medication to take beforehand. In that case, you’ll need to make sure that there is someone present to pick you up. The contrast dye is generally safe, but if you feel unwell at any point during the procedure, tell the MRI technologist. Allergic reactions are rare but can happen. If you have an allergic reaction to contrast dye, our staff and physicians will provide any necessary treatment.