Top 10 WorkersSince the first MRI scan was performed on a human patient in 1977, magnetic resonance imaging technology has revolutionized the world of medical diagnostics, providing physicians with unparalleled insights into the human body. Today, MRI scans are used to diagnose a wide range of medical conditions, including stroke, cancer, and sports injuries. Despite how commonplace these tests may seem today, one of the key components of MRI technology—the use of contrast agents—remains a source of confusion for many patients.

In this blog post, we will take a look into the world of MRI imaging and discover the difference between scans performed 'with contrast' and those 'without'. Ultimately, your physician will decide which type of scan is best for you, with guidance from a radiologist when needed.

However, understanding the differences between the two can help you better prepare for your scan and ensure that you are getting the most out of your MRI experience.

About MRIs With Contrast

A contrast MRI uses a contrast agent, also called contrast dye, to create detailed images of the inside of your body. Typically, gadolinium-based contrast agents are used for contrast MRIs because they are non-toxic, easily eliminated from the body, and extremely safe. A contrast scan helps the radiologist detect even small differences in the tissues of the body, such as differences between healthy tissue and cancerous tissue. For this reason, contrast is typically only used to evaluate specific issues, like a tumor or other cancer, an infection, an abscess, or an inflammatory lesion like those caused by multiple sclerosis.

For a contrast scan, the patient is first scanned without using a contrast agent and then scanned again after receiving the contrast agent. This helps the radiologist see if the contrast has caused any unusual changes in the scan. If there's a cancerous mass or infectious abscess, it will absorb the contrast material, making it more visible compared to normal tissues. By doing both non-contrast and post-contrast scans, the team can better understand the scanned area and more accurately identify any abnormalities.

About MRIs Without Contrast

As the name suggests, non-contrast MRIs are used to produce images of the body without the use of contrast dye. Despite this, a non-contrast MRI is still able to create accurate, reliable, and detailed images. As an example, an MRI without contrast may be used to identify a large tumor, but an MRI with contrast will be able to detect a smaller tumor, as well as better determine the size of the tumor and its extension into the surrounding tissues.

However, not all MRI scans require a contrast agent to address the problem or concern—in fact, about 85% of MRI scans are performed without contrast. An MRA scan, for example, also known as a magnetic resonance angiography scan, is used to create images of the blood vessels. These scans are typically performed without contrast because the MRI machine can detect changes in vascular flow, such as narrowing or blockages, without the need for contrast dye.

The Benefits of Scans With Contrast

As previously mentioned, the MRI images created with contrast agents can provide physicians with more detailed information about a patient’s condition. Scans with contrast are used to provide various possible medical diagnoses, like cancer, pituitary illness, and vascular malformations. MRIs with contrast are particularly useful when diagnosing issues related to the brain and spine, like multiple sclerosis, brain tumors, and brain aneurysms.

By creating detailed, comprehensive images of the body’s soft tissues, scans with contrast allow physicians to make more accurate diagnoses with fewer additional tests, which can save time and money. Additionally, contrast MRIs are often used to monitor the progression or regression of certain illnesses over time.

The Reasons Why Without is Sometimes Better

In addition to the majority of scans simply not requiring a contrast agent to provide accurate results, there are other reasons why a non-contrast MRI may be preferred for some patients. These reasons include:

  • The patient is pregnant. Pregnant women are typically advised against having contrast scans due to the potential risk of complications. Someone who is breastfeeding, however, may be eligible for contrast scans.
  • The patient has poor kidney function or kidney disease. MRI contrast is metabolized by the kidneys, and patients with kidney issues may not be able to tolerate them.

Allergies may also be a concern for people who have had an allergic reaction to a contrast dye in the past, likely from a CT scan. Fortunately, MRI contrast is different from CT contrast and rarely causes allergic reactions, let alone severe ones. The American College of Radiology found that fewer than 1% of scans with contrast will cause an allergic reaction, with even fewer being serious or life-threatening. Our patients' health and safety are the top priority of the Smart Scan team, and we take every precaution to ensure you have a safe and comfortable experience.

Preparing for Your MRI at Smart Scan Medical Imaging

At Smart Scan Medical Imaging, not only are we dedicated to educating our patients so they can make informed decisions about their health, but we're dedicated to keeping them comfortable throughout their MRI imaging experience. We understand that the idea of an MRI can be a bit intimidating, which is why our team works hard to ensure that your experience is as stress-free and comfortable as possible.

First, our MRI machines are 'wide-bore,' meaning they have a larger opening, designed to reduce feelings of claustrophobia and anxiety. Additionally, we offer patients headphones and the opportunity to listen to the music of their choice during their scan. Our goal is to make sure that our patients feel as comfortable and relaxed as possible throughout the whole process.

Finally, our team is here to answer any of your questions or concerns before, during, and after the scan. Whether you're preparing for contrast or non-contrast MRI, you can rest assured that our experienced and professional team has your comfort and interests in mind. We're always happy to answer any questions you may have!

Reach out to Smart Scan Medical Imaging today to discover more about MRI scans, or conveniently schedule your first appointment online. We look forward to getting you the help you need!