The vascular system provides oxygen and nutrients to all the cells, tissues, and organs throughout the body, making it a critical component of human health and well-being. Ensuring our vascular system is functioning optimally is of the utmost importance, and magnetic resonance angiography (MRA) can help us do just that.
At , our team uses state-of-the-art MRI scanners to get high-quality images of a variety of body parts and systems to help diagnose and treat medical conditions. When a person typically thinks of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), they likely imagine a scan of their skeleton and organs. But, MRA is actually a type of MRI that specifically focuses on the vascular system—arteries and veins—to provide detailed images of the blood vessels that allow us to see how blood is flowing throughout the body.
But how does MRA work, and why might someone need one?
What is Magnetic Resonance Angiography (MRA)?
Both MRA and the more commonly-known MRI use powerful magnets, a magnetic field, and computer algorithms to create detailed images of the body. However, while MRI scans are primarily used to generate images of soft tissues like the brain, organs, and joints, MRA scans are used to capture images of the blood vessels.
In most cases, an MRA scan is used to assess and diagnose issues with the arteries or veins that could be disrupting blood flow in some way. This resulting image is especially helpful for detecting blockages, aneurysms, narrowing (stenosis), or other irregularities of the veins and arteries.
In the past, these images were largely created with traditional catheter angiography, a procedure that involves X-ray imaging, the insertion of a thin tube into the artery, and the injection of contrast dye to make certain parts visible. This process was often unpleasant and uncomfortable, and as a result, using an MRI scanner to produce a magnetic resonance angiogram has become a much more popular option.
As opposed to angiography, MRA is non-invasive and typically does not require IV contrast. In addition, MRA does not involve radiation, unlike CT angiography (CTA), which uses radiation and IV contrast.
Who Needs An MRA Scan?
If you are experiencing symptoms or have risk factors for certain vascular issues, your healthcare provider may recommend an MRA scan. These scans can help detect and diagnose a variety of conditions, including:
- Aneurysm: A bulging or outpouching in the wall of an artery, vein, or heart. These can occur anywhere in the body but are commonly seen in the brain, aorta, legs, and intestines. If left untreated, an aneurysm may burst, which can cause severe damage, such as a stroke or even death.
- Aortic dissection: A tear in the innermost layer of the aorta, which is the large blood vessel that carries oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the rest of the body. Aortic dissection is a medical emergency; timely diagnosis and treatment are crucial, as the condition can lead to serious complications such as heart failure, stroke, or death.
- Stroke: A medical emergency that occurs when blood flow to a part of the brain is interrupted or dramatically reduced. A stroke may occur when a clot blocks the blood flow to the brain, or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts or ruptures, causing bleeding in the brain. MRA can potentially identify any narrowing (stenosis) or blockage, which can help prevent a stroke with proper treatment.
- Blockages: A partial or complete blockage of an artery due to plaque buildup, also known as vascular disease. MRA is commonly used to find blockages in the carotid arteries that go to the brain. This condition is a major risk factor for stroke and other serious medical complications. MRA can detect blockages in the arteries before they become more severe. MR Venography (MRV) is another version of MRA that can look for blockages in the venous system, commonly used in the brain to look for Cerebral Venous Thrombosis.
- Renal artery stenosis: A narrowing of the arteries that supply blood to the kidneys, which can cause high blood pressure, kidney damage, and other complications. MRA is an efficient way to diagnose this condition before it worsens.
An MRA scan can also help detect other conditions and be used to monitor the progress of certain treatments. By identifying these conditions early on, an MRA scan can help you and your healthcare provider make informed decisions about appropriate treatment and management options.
How Should I Prepare For An MRA?
Before you have an MRA scan at one of our facilities, our team will provide you with specific instructions and details about your procedure. Generally, however, there are several steps you can take to make sure that your appointment goes as smoothly as possible:
It is important to let your healthcare provider know if you have any metal implants or objects in your body, such as pacemakers, artificial joints, aneurysm clips, or anything else that may interfere with the scan. You'll also be asked to remove any metal objects, such as jewelry, glasses, or hearing aids, before the procedure.
In addition, let your technologist know if you have a history of kidney disease or have had an allergic reaction to a contrast agent in the past. Fortunately, in most cases where a contrast agent is used, like during a computed tomography (CT) scan, the dye causes no issues. In addition, IV contrast is not used for most MRA scans. However, for people with chronic kidney disease or a history of allergic reactions, appropriate precautions must be taken.
Finally, and follow any instructions given by your technologist. If you have any questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to ask. Our team is dedicated to providing you with the best possible experience!
Getting Started With Smart Scan Medical Imaging
At , we're dedicated to making your patient experience pleasant, from the time you schedule your appointment to the moment you leave our facility. With two convenient locations in Eau Claire and Weston, as well as an , getting started with us is simple!
If you have any questions about an MRA scan or any of our other services, please feel free to contact us. Our knowledgeable staff will be more than happy to answer any of your questions and provide you with the information you need.