Why do I need to have gadolinium contrast medium?

Gadolinium MRI contrast agent is used in about 1 in 3 of MRI scans to improve the clarity of the images or pictures of your body’s internal structures. This improves the diagnostic accuracy of the MRI scan. For example, it improves the visibility of inflammation, tumours, blood vessels and, for some organs, blood supply.

Before the scan begins, the radiologist (specialist doctor supervising the scan) will decide, on the basis of the notes sent by your referring doctor, whether gadolinium injection is likely to be helpful and should be recommended for your MRI.

Before any MRI scan, you will be asked a number of questions about your medical history, and any implants you might have, to make sure that you will not be at risk from the strong magnetic fields of the scanner. You will also be asked about conditions that might mean a gadolinium injection would not be recommended (e.g. pregnancy, previous allergic reaction, severe kidney disease). If you have any of these conditions, then you will not be given gadolinium, but if there is no condition preventing injection, you might be asked to sign a consent form in case gadolinium is required.

Usually, you will be advised by the technologist or nurse before you have the MRI scan that it is recommended that gadolinium contrast medium be injected during the examination. As with any medical procedure, you have the right to seek further advice and/or to decline a gadolinium injection. The technologist who carries out the MRI scan, a nurse or a radiologist will give you the injection.

Sometimes, even though gadolinium initially would not have been required based on the referral notes provided by your doctor, the radiologist might decide during your scan that gadolinium would help make the images clearer. If you are told part of the way through your scan that gadolinium will be needed, you should not be concerned that this indicates something serious is wrong. Most often, this is being done to make the images clearer and of a higher quality, so the radiologist can provide your doctor with a more accurate diagnosis of your symptom or condition. If the gadolinium is not given after such a recommendation, another scan may be required later.

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