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Learn about Heart Imaging
A cardiac MRI is a special type of MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) exam designed to look at the structure and function of the heart. It may also be used to assess blood vessels in the body. Every exam is interpreted by a cardiac-imaging specialist with additional expertise and advanced training in MRI.
Read more about MRI exams
Cardiac MRI offers superior images of the heart muscle when compared to other Imaging techniques such as echocardiography (cardiac ultrasound) or CT (computed tomography). It may involve contrast—an injection that makes the images more vivid and informative—but uses no X-rays or radioactivity, unlike some imaging exams. It produces high-quality moving or still images and is usually performed to offer complementary information that other exams cannot provide.
Cardiac MRI exams allow doctors to see the heart in motion to diagnose problems and plan proper treatments. This image shows that the tip of the heart has been damaged by a heart attack and is not contracting normally.
MRI exams require that you lie still in a confined space. Most people have no problem, but talk to your doctor if you are concerned. Your doctor may prescribe a sedative beforehand (we cannot provide such medication at the time of the exam). The technologist performing your exam will be nearby and able to see you and talk to you throughout the scan.
Women should always inform their physician or technologist if there is any possibility that they are pregnant. Because the risks of MRI to the baby are unknown, pregnant women should not have this exam unless the potential benefit outweighs the potential risks.
If you are over 60 years old or have kidney disease, diabetes, lupus, or multiple myeloma, a blood test before your exam is necessary to make sure contrast is safe for you.
Please arrive at least 60 minutes before your appointment. Your early arrival will help to ensure that we are able to perform the test efficiently and safely. We will also ask you a series of questions to confirm it is safe for you to undergo the MRI.
Specifically, you will be asked if you have any metal objects inside of your body. Some examples include: pacemakers, heart valves, aneurysm repairs, and injuries in which metal could have lodged within the body, especially into your eyes. We may also order additional tests or request further information from you or your doctor concerning any metal implants you may have. Detailed information about the make and model of any devices in your body is required.
If you are claustrophobic, you may ask your doctor to schedule your MRI with sedation (a medication to help you relax). This arrangement must be made before the day of your exam.
You will be asked to change into a hospital gown and to remove all metal objects, such as pens, eyeglasses, jewelry, hairpins, dentures, credit cards or dental bridgework. We recommend that you leave metal accessory items at home. A locker and key will be provided to you to store clothing and valuables.
An intravenous catheter will be inserted in your arm for intravenous contrast injection. If you have a known contrast allergy or had a reaction to contrast dye, please tell your physician and technologist prior to the exam. Electrocardiogram leads will be placed on your chest to monitor your heartbeat. Before beginning the exam, you will be coached in a method to hold your breath. You will be asked to hold your breath for 10 to 18 seconds several times during the scan.
The MRI machine is a tube with a three-foot-wide opening in the center. You will be asked to lie on a table that slides into the central opening. Using a speaker and headphone system, we will be able to communicate with you throughout the exam. It is very important for you to stay as still as possible because movements can create blurring of the images. The scanner will make a loud knocking noise every time you will be asked to hold your breath. Earplugs will be given to you to muffle the noise. The length of the scan varies depending on what kind of information your doctor has requested can take up to two hours, usually including 60 to 90 minutes in the machine.
If you have not been sedated, no recovery period is necessary. You may resume your usual activities and normal diet immediately after the exam. A few patients experience side effects from the contrast material, including nausea and local pain. Very rarely, patients are allergic to the contrast material and experience hives and itchy eyes.
It is recommended that nursing mothers not breastfeed for 36 to 48 hours after an MRI with a contrast material.
Typically, the results of any examination will be available to your doctor within 24 hours. Your doctor will communicate the results of your study directly to you.
Cardiac MRI is an advanced examination, requiring close physician supervision. Most cardiac MRls are therefore scheduled during the work week, when we have access to the fastest MRI scanners and radiologists with advanced training who can directly supervise the exam. A physician's order is required.
Cardic MRI is performed on the Mass General main campus in Boston
Mass General Imaging - Boston
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