If you have a suspected heart problem or are monitoring ongoing problems, your doctor may recommend getting cardiac Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). A cardiac MRI is a medical imaging test that uses powerful magnets and radio waves to create pictures of the heart. This test can help doctors find out what is causing problems with the heart, and it may also help them plan treatments.
If you have heart problems, your doctor may recommend a cardiac MRI. Understanding what it is and how it can help you before you get the imaging test done is beneficial and may also ease some anxiety.
What is a cardiac MRI?
There are multiple types of MRIs. Some standard diagnostic tests include functional MRIs, angiography, venography, breast scan, and cardiac MRIs. The non-invasive and painless cardiac MRI machine uses a strong magnetic field and radio waves to produce clear images inside of and around the heart.
This type of MRI is taken with or without contrast, meaning the image will either be in black and white or have some color in a particular location. A contrast, or dye, either taken orally or injected intravenously, allows radiologists to get a better quality MRI picture and allows for accuracy in diagnosis when attempting to identify a problem. Radiology experts say, “if the doctor requires a highly detailed image to assess a specific problem area within your body, they’ll typically order the contrast agent.” But not all cardiac MRIs require contrast.
The MRI machine itself looks like a giant donut. Once you lay down on the moveable platform and are ready to go, the platform will slide into the “hole” or space inside of the MRI machine. Depending on the situation, the technician might place sticky electrodes on your chest to monitor your heartbeat and breathing while in the machine.
Aside from the inconvenience of having to lay there in a still position for half an hour to an hour while in a loud machine, getting a cardiac MRI done is entirely painless. The benefits of this type of MRI outweigh the minor annoyance of needing to get one done.
Who might need a cardiac MRI?
There are various reasons a cardiologist may give the order to get a cardiac MRI. If you’re in this position, your doctor may suspect something due to your symptoms, or you might be following up on or monitoring a pre-existing condition. Either way, a cardiac MRI is a relatively common practice.
The following is a list of common cardiac conditions or problems a cardiac MRI can help identify and diagnose; however, there may be other reasons to need diagnostic imaging.
- Chest pain, shortness of breath, or fainting
- An enlarged heart
- Thickening of the heart muscle
- Heart failure
- Heart muscle damage, inflammation, infiltration, and infection
- Heart valve disease, including leaky valves, narrowed valves, and prosthetic valves
- Heart disease
- Abnormal iron deposition
- Torn, narrow, dilated, or inflamed aorta
- Diseases that affect your pericardium (the tissue or sac around your heart)
- Cancer and other masses
- Congenital heart issues you’ve had since you were born
A Cardiac MRI is not only used as a diagnostic tool but as an evaluative tool. This means established cardiac patients with ongoing issues might need a series of MRIs over time.
Risks and benefits of a cardiac MRI
One significant benefit of a cardiac MRI is that they do not use radiation. This fact is especially beneficial to those who need a series of MRIs.
Radiologists also say:
- MR images of the heart are better than other imaging methods for certain conditions.
- MRI has proven valuable in diagnosing a broad range of conditions.
- MRI can detect abnormalities that might be obscured by bone with other imaging methods.
- MRI imaging can be used during specific interventional procedures.
On the other hand, there aren’t many risks involved, primarily since no radiation occurs during a cardiac MRI. The main risks are sedation medications and gadolinium dyes, as some patients may react to either. Additionally, there are items patients should avoid when getting an MRI, such as wearing any metal or jewelry during the process. People who wear implanted medical devices can cause the machine to malfunction or distort the images.
No matter what, the radiologist technician will review the risks and benefits and answer any questions before beginning the cardiac MRI.
Cardiac MRIs are one of the most common types of MRIs patients can undergo. Radiologists and patients gain a wealth of information about what is happening in and around the heart by what the MRI reveals. They are efficient and helpful in diagnosing many different cardiac conditions. There are also many reasons someone might need a cardiac MRI, such as to evaluate for lung or heart problems. If you have any concerns about your lungs or heart, ask a reputable cardiologist, such as Gwinnett’s Cardiovascular Group, if a cardiac MRI would suit you.