Do MRIs Cause Harm?

MRI safety

As with any medical intervention and diagnostic tool, a medical professional must determine whether the health benefit outweighs the risk. For most, an MRI poses minimal to no risk, since it does not utilize radiation, and the benefit can be priceless. For some patients, however, there are several inherent safety concerns that must be considered before undergoing the exam. Most importantly, you should always tell your doctor, the imaging facility, and the technician about any surgeries you’ve had, if you could be pregnant, nursing, or claustrophobic, and about metal objects you could have in your body.

Surgeries and Metallic Objects

An MRI is a large, high-powered magnet that produces a magnetic field that can interact with metallic objects and other appliances. The magnetic field can even disrupt the operation of certain implanted devices, such as a pacemaker. The nature of a pacemaker is to correct and ensure a steady heartbeat. If the delicate balance is disrupted, the pacemaker can de-regulate and the heart may beat incorrectly. This would be dangerous to the patient and most will not obtain an MRI, unless it is particularly necessary and in an appropriately-equipped, controlled setting.
Additionally, because an MRI is a magnet, reactive surgical appliances or metal objects are often contraindicated. For certain devices, such as stents, surgical device cards are given to the patient at time of surgery and will provide imaging safety guidelines. Performing an MRI is still possible with many of the listed items, but it is important to make your doctor, the imaging facility, and technician aware to verify the safety protocols necessary to ensure your well-being.

While not an exhaustive list, many common medical device concerns are:

• Non-titanium implants
• Stents
• Ports
• Aneurism clips
• Foreign metal bodies (ie, bullet, BBs, metal fragments, etc)
• Pain Pumps
• Pacemaker
• Implanted Cardio Defibrillators (ICDs)
• Hearing aids
• Spine Stimulator

It’s common for patients to momentarily forget that they have had a contraindicated device or injury. Often many years have passed since the incident; therefore, it is important to keep open dialogue with your doctor and take time to recall ANY surgery or possible injury that resulted in a device or other metal in the body.

Pregnancy/Nursing

Generally speaking, there are no known risks associated with MRIs and pregnancy. However, MRIs are usually not performed during pregnancy unless it’s an emergent problem that cannot wait until gestation is complete. If you are pregnant or suspect you may be pregnant, let your technician know during your pre-exam screening so you and your doctor can determine if it’s necessary to proceed. Regardless, an MRI is a safer procedure than X-ray or CT because it does not utilize radiation.

Choosing to complete an MRI while Breastfeeding is perfectly safe and commonly done. However, if contrast dye is used during your exam, you will need to pump prior or use an alternative formula for 24 hours until the contrast dye has been cleared from your body. To read more about contrast dye, please click here.

Claustrophobia

An MRI is a tube-like structure that the patient lies inside, comforted with body adjustment pillows. Many patients experience extreme anxiety during the exam, fearing being enclosed in a tight space. The feeling of claustrophobia is common and there are a variety of medications your doctor can prescribe to help you relax. Sometimes, patients choose to have another person in the room during the exam to help them stay calm. There are even open MRI options that give a less confined sensation that the patient may prefer. If you are concerned about claustrophobia, let the office staff know during the scheduling call of your appointment, and they will offer the solution that will benefit your experience.

Contrast Dye

Contrast dye, called Gadolinium, will add a new layer of medical attention and safety concerns to your exam. To learn about the risks and benefits for an MRI with contrast, click here.