MRI: Contrast vs. NonContrast

What is an MRI?

An MRI is a body scan that takes pictures of your organs and inside of your body, similar to a CT but without using ionizing radiation. There are several types of procedures performed utilizing MRI. Two things that are considered are contrast and noncontrast. 

A contrast MRI requires that contrast (which is gadolinium based) be administered intravenously(into a vein) during the scan. Non-contrast MRIs preferred in kidney-compromised patients because the gadolinium based contrast agents are contraindicated for these types of patients. In some cases MRI without contrast are preferred during pregnancy because there is no ionizing radiation and the need for contrast is less likely than it is for CT. 

 Radiologists use contrast MRIs for specific problems, such as tumors or lesions and the contrast provides better image clarity for specific areas of the body.

Why Non Contrast MRI

Some issues with contrast MRIs are the safety concerns for specific types of patients who are allergic to the main ingredient in the dye. It is possible to have an allergic reaction to the gadolinium. A reaction to this injection only happens to about 1 in 10,000 patients, so it is unlikely. If you were to have an allergic reaction, clinics will have ways to reverse the reaction immediately, sometimes with the use of medication or an EpiPen. If you do experience any symptoms such as shortness of breath, dizziness, flushing or redness after your contrast scan, consult a doctor right away.

While, non-contrast MRIs are often longer and more costly, new studies have shown that with advanced technology, MRIs without contrast can be used to monitor many types of diseases.

About Contrast MRIs

An MRI with contrast is designed to highlight specific areas of your body tissue and provide more clarity within the images taken of your organs and joints. The contrast moves through you bloodstream, this allows highly vascularized areas(areas with a lot of blood vessels) to stand out and assist the radiologist to correctly identify the presence of disease, stages of a disease, causes of pain and more. 

Using the dye during your MRI will allow the soft tissue within your body to come out clearer within the pictures. This allows your doctor to identify signs of cancer or tumors. Your doctor will recommend a contrast MRI, in specific cases if you are able to safely have an MRI with contrast. The MRI technologist will also verify the safe administration of contrast prior to your study, in some cases a radiologist may conclude the contrast should be used if the benefits outweigh the risk. This is evaluated on a case by case basis.

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