An MRI may use contrast to help us see the images more clearly. 

There are two kinds of contrast for MRI – the kind you drink and the kind that you get through an IV. The benefits of using contrast typically outweigh any potential risk. We carefully asses your risk before giving you contrast.

We should be able to tell you if you need contrast before your appointment. Sometimes the decision is made the same day if we get new information about the best way to image you. 

IV contrast for MRI use gadolinium-based contrast agents (GBCAs). Gadolinium is a naturally occurring element in all currently approved IV contrast agents for MRI. 

The benefits of GBCAs typically outweigh any potential risks. There has been no evidence showing harmful effects in patients with healthy kidneys.

What is gadolinium?

Gadolinium is a naturally occurring element in all currently approved contrast agents for MRI. Contrast agents are injected into the vein to help your radiologist with diagnosis. Contrast agents with gadolinium have been used in more than 100 million patients over the past 25 years.

What are the benefits of GBCAs?

GBCAs can help your radiologist to diagnose disease. For example, many infections, vascular malformations and tumors are best seen using GBCAs.

What are the risks of GBCAs?

All medications have risks. Reactions to GBCAs such as nausea, headache and rash are very rare. The benefits of GBCAs typically outweigh any potential risks. We carefully assess your risk before giving you contrast.

The only scientifically proven effect is a disease called nephrogenic systemic fibrosis (NSF) that can occur in some patients with kidney failure. In certain patients, an on-site blood test is performed to ensure the kidneys are functioning properly. If the results are abnormal, we do not use GBCAs.

How long does gadolinium stay in your body?

Several studies have shown that small amounts of gadolinium may stay in your body. People who get many doses, pregnant women and young children have a higher risk. While research is ongoing, there has been no evidence showing harmful effects in patients with healthy kidneys.

When does Mass General use GBCAs?

We use GBCAs when they will help make a more accurate diagnosis, and we look at the need for repeated use on a case-by-case basis. We do not use GBCAs in patients who are pregnant or at risk of an allergic reaction. We evaluate patients with kidney disease on a case-by-case basis to assess the risks and benefits.

What GBCAs does Mass General use?

We use the safest agent that allows for the most accurate diagnosis. We always tailor the type of agent to the exam, and we stay up to date on the safest agents available.