Can People with Pacemakers Get MRI Scans?

Not so long ago, the medical community believed that once you get a pacemaker implanted, MRI scans were off limits for the rest of your life. You’d just have to make do with other imaging modalities, like X-rays. There are even reports of surgeons removing implanted medical devices, completing an MRI scan, and then replacing the implant post-scan.

As doctors Duc H. Do and Noel G. Boyle write in a 2016 article for the American College of Cardiology, “This approach is clearly extreme [as it exposes] the patient to the risks of two surgical procedures.”

The truth is that the question of medical implants and MRI machines is not nearly so clear-cut as we once believed. It all depends on the individual situation, and even the brand of the pacemaker. It’s possible that physicians can find workarounds that allow patients with medical implants to undergo MRI scans. Here’s what we know so far.

The Problem with MRI Scans and Pacemakers

When doctors first began using MRI scans, they noted that the powerful magnetic field and the bursts of radiofrequency energy that create the diagnostic images could also damage implanted medical devices. Even worse, the magnet could tug at these implants with disastrous effects, and the radio waves could cause device leads to heat up dangerously. Clearly, MRI scans weren’t worth the risk for patients with pacemakers.

But as Do and Boyle report, more than half of the 2 million U.S. patients who have devices implanted in their bodies will need MRI scans at some point post-implant. That fact alone has led physicians to continue studying the problem, and it seems that there are some answers available.

MRI-Conditional Implanted Medical Devices

Technology has stepped up to solve the problem of medical devices and MRI scans. Several MRI-conditional pacemakers, implantable cardioverter-defibrillators (ICDs), and cardiac resynchronization (CRT) devices have already been approved, and are on the market today.

Now, these devices may not be safe for high-Tesla MRI scanners, and every situation is different; only your health care team can tell you if an MRI scan is right for you. But these devices have tested well in studies; they seem to work.

Reprogramming Pacemakers and Monitoring Patients for Safe MRI Scans

The trouble with MRI-conditional implants is that they remain far more expensive than their standard counterparts. However, Do and Boyle explain that there are certain clinical workarounds that sometimes allow patients with pacemakers and ICDs to safely undergo MRI scans.

The trick is to reprogram the device, disabling some features while altering others, to reduce the chance of negative outcomes. Then, when the scan is complete, doctors can reset the devices to their standard settings, and the patient continues on as if the MRI never happened.

So if you have a pacemaker and your doctor orders an MRI scan, don’t panic; talk to your health care providers about the plan, and follow your physician’s advice.

To learn more about MRIs, or to schedule a procedure, call at 888-322-7785.


Do, Duc and Noel G. Boyle. “MRI in Patients with Implanted Devices: Current Controversies.ACC. American College of Cardiology, 1 Aug. 2016. Web.19 Oct. 2017.