It may seem like there’s a simple answer to this question: You should use a contrast agent during your MRI scan when your radiologist tells you to. However, given that you don’t need a doctor’s referral to schedule an MRI at a BestPriceMRI.com facility unless you need a contrast agent, it’s worth understanding which types of MRI scans typically need the resolution boost that comes with contrast media.
Most MRI contrast agents contain a substance called gadolinium, which helps to create a clearer image of the tissues and organs that radiologists target. There are two ways of introducing gadolinium-based MRI contrast agents to the body:
- Oral Administration – Radiologists may ask patients to swallow contrast agents. This technique brings the substance to the stomach and the G.I. tract, and is useful in creating well-defined images for MRI scans of these areas.
- Intravenous Injection – To obtain images of most tissues, radiologists will order a shot of contrast dye to the appropriate area or system. This injection can be confined to the circulatory system or it can collect in certain organs, like the spleen or the lymph nodes. Certain contrast agents directly target tumors, as well.
Assuming a patient doesn’t have kidney disease, and that there’s no chance they’re pregnant, radiologists are likely to order the use of a contrast dye when they need a clearer image to make a diagnosis. Here are a few common conditions in which imaging staff may use a contrast agent during an MRI scan:
- Suspected Heart Abnormality – Because gadolinium agents easily travel throughout the bloodstream, creating greater contrast in veins, arteries, and the heart, the use of a contrast dye can often improve diagnosis of heart conditions.
- Real-Time Study of Blood Vessels – MRI scans can show the flow of blood as it occurs, allowing doctors to study and diagnose vascular diseases with the use of a contrast agent.
- Cancer Diagnoses – If a doctor suspects cancer in a bodily organ, the radiologist might use a contrast agent during an MRI. Gadolinium can create a much clearer picture of blood vessels. Malignant tumors can be spotted by the profusion of new blood vessels that come with them. By showing the presence of high concentrations of blood vessels, MRI scans with contrast can help diagnose cancer.
- Tracking Inflammation – Inflamed tissues are clearer in MRI scans that use contrast, so radiologists may order the use of gadolinium when diagnosing conditions that involve inflammation.
- Scans of the Brain, Spinal Cord, Bones, and Soft Tissues – Depending on the level of detail that radiologists need when looking at a wide variety of bodily tissues, they may order the use of contrast media. Of course, MRI machines themselves are improving year after year. Today’s technology can create images that are clear enough even without contrast agents, so their use is on the decline.
If you have a question about contrast dyes or any other aspect of an MRI, talk to your radiologist. Your medical team will be able to explain the rationale behind the use of one of these substances.
When you need a quick, convenient, and highly accurate MRI scan, with or without contrast, call BestPriceMRI.com at 888-322-7785.