What If I Need an MRI?

 LC shaldach gardenBy Guest Blogger

Larry A. Chinitz, MD
Benjamin and Coyle Family Professor of Medicine
New York University Langone Medical Center
AHA New York Board of Directors

Physicians often need to rely on imaging technology that has proven to be an incredibly effective diagnostic tool when treating patients. With an array of imaging procedures available, it can be confusing, intimidating and overwhelming for patients—specifically patients with existing cardiovascular concerns—to decipher why a specific imaging scan is needed, and any factors that could negate access to these life-saving technologies.

Magnetic resonance imaging scans, generally referred to as an MRI, provide detailed images of the organs and tissues in the body. Patients undergoing an MRI procedure lay still on a flat surface in a tube-like structure where electric current is used to create a temporary magnetic field around the body. Radio waves send signals that translate to detailed images of tissues and organs in the body that often cannot be seen through other imaging modalities such as x-ray, ultrasound and computed tomography (CT).

Here’s what you need to know about MRI scans:

Why MRI?

MRI scans are used to diagnose and monitor disease and illness including cancer, heart disease, aneurysms, tumors, inflammatory disease, disc degeneration in the spinal cord and congenital abnormalities.

 Is it Likely I Will Need an MRI in My Lifetime?

Yes. More than 34 million MRI scans are performed on patients every year to diagnose injury, disease and illness.

  • Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. MRI scans are frequently used to aid the diagnosis of coronary artery disease, pericardial disease, cardiac tumors, heart valve disease, heart muscle disease and congenital heart disease.
  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 795,000 people in the United States experience a stroke every year. MRI scans are used to diagnose stroke and the impact.

Does an MRI scan hurt?

No. Patients should not experience physical pain during the procedure.

How long is the process?

MRI scans usually take between 20 and 60 minutes.

 What if I have an implanted device, like a pacemaker – can I still have an MRI?

For decades, access to the incredible diagnostic potential of MRI scans was prohibited for patients with pacemakers due to the potential device malfunction due to the magnetic fields. This is not the case today. Medical device companies have developed technologically-advanced pacemakers designed for use during MRI scans and approved by the FDA as MRI conditional. Patients with these pacemakers know they will have access to MRI scans if the time comes and a scan is needed.

If you have an implanted cardiac device, it is important to talk to your electrophysiologist or cardiologist now about your device and your potential limitations. If you have a cardiac condition and are considering a pacemaker, speak to your physician about all available device options to ensure you receive a pacemaker that has been approved by the FDA as MRI conditional—this is a decision that could significantly impact your future medical care.

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 Information and opinions expressed within our Guest Posts are those of the author alone and do not represent those of the American Heart Association|American Stroke Association; nor does the Association endorse any products or services represented in this blog. In addition, these blogs are not intended to provide medical advice or treatment. The American Heart Association|American Stroke Association recommends you consult your healthcare provider regarding your personal health matters.

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