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Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses magnets and radio waves to capture images inside your body without making a surgical incision. It allows your doctor to see the soft tissues in your body, along with your bones.

An MRI can be performed on any part of your body. However, a heart or cardiac MRI looks specifically at your heart and nearby blood vessels.

Unlike a CT scan, an MRI does not use ionizing radiation. It?s considered a safer alternative for pregnant women. If possible, it?s best to wait until after the first trimester.


Before the test, tell your doctor if you have a pacemaker. Depending on your type of pacemaker, your doctor may suggest another testing method, such as an abdominal CT scan. However, some pacemaker models can be reprogrammed before an MRI so they aren?t disrupted during the examination.

Because an MRI uses magnets, it can attract metals. You should alert your doctor if you have any type of metal implant from previous surgeries. These may include:

  • artificial heart valves
  • clips
  • implants
  • pins
  • plates
  • screws
  • staples
  • stents

Your doctor may need to use a special dye to highlight your heart. This dye is a gadolinium-based contrast agent that?s administered through an IV. It?s different from the dye used during a CT scan.

Allergic reactions to the dye are rare. However, you should let your doctor know before the IV is given if you have any concerns or a history of allergic reactions in the past.


An MRI machine may look intimidating. It?s made up of a bench that slowly glides into a large tube attached to a doughnut-shaped opening. As long you have followed your doctor?s instructions to remove all metal, such as body jewelry, watches, and earrings, you will be completely safe.

The technician will ask you to lie back on the bench. You may be given a pillow or blanket if you have trouble lying on it. The technician will control the movement of the bench using a remote control from another room. They will be able to communicate with you through a microphone.

The machine will make loud whirring and thumping noises as it takes pictures of your body. Many hospitals offer earplugs. Others may provide television shows or headphones with music to help you pass the time.

The technician will ask you to hold your breath for a few seconds as the pictures are being taken. You won?t feel anything during the test because the machine?s magnets and radio frequencies ? similar to FM radios ? can?t be felt.

The entire process can take anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes.


After the test, you should be able to drive yourself home, unless you were given anti-anxiety medicine or sedation.

It may take some time for your doctor to review and interpret the images.

Preliminary results from your heart MRI may be available within a few days. However, comprehensive results can take up to a week or more. When the results are available, your doctor will review them with you and discuss any follow-up steps you should take.

Testing time

The examination uses very different technology to a normal X-ray, and does take more time to carry out. Depending on the problem being investigated, the scan time can vary from 20 to 45 minutes. Particularly complex heart conditions can require up to an hour of scanning.

Report delivery time

The radiologist will send a report to the doctor who arranged thescan, who will discuss theresultswith you. It usuallytakesa week or two for theresultsof anMRI scanto come through, unless they're needed urgently.


  • Heart and vascular cardiac MRI scanning is a noninvasive imaging technique that does not involve exposure to ionizing radiation.
  • Cardiac MRI scan images of the heart are generally better than other imaging methods for certain conditions. This advantage makes MR imaging an invaluable tool in early diagnosis and evaluation of certain cardiac abnormalities, especially those involving the heart muscle.
  • A heart and vascular cardiac MRI scan has proven valuable in diagnosing a broad range of conditions, including cardiovascular anatomical anomalies (e.g., congenital defects), functional abnormalities (e.g., valve failure), tumors and conditions related to coronary artery disease.
  • MR imaging can be used during certain interventional procedures, such as catheter-based ablation procedures to treat irregular heart rhythms, including atrial fibrillation. The use of MR imaging can substantially shorten the time required to perform these procedures, resulting in better accuracy.
  • Heart and vascular cardiac MR imaging enables the discovery of abnormalities that might be obscured by bone with other imaging methods.
  • The contrast material used in a cardiac MRI scan is less likely to produce an allergic reaction than the iodine-based contrast materials used for conventional x-rays and CT scanning.
  • Cardiac MR imaging allows evaluation of the structures and function of the heart and major vessels without risks of exposure to radiation typically associated with traditional, more invasive procedures.

Global facts

MRI stands for Magnetic Resonance Imaging, and uses a strong magnetic field and radio waves to collect images. That?s why items made of metal and devices that emit radio waves are not allowed anywhere near and MRI scanner.

  • The main magnet in an MRI can create a magnetic field that is one to four thousand times stronger than the earth?s magnetic field.
  • The magnets used in MRI scanners must be cooled to a temperature of absolute zero. This cooling is typically done with liquid hydrogen.
  • MRI scans are often used to identify tumors or bone fractures that are too small for x-ray. MRI scans are ideal for orthopedic, neurological, and vascular imaging, but can be used for other diagnoses as well.
  • Unlike X-ray or CT scans, Magnetic Resonance Imaging does not use ionizing radiation. This makes MRI a popular alternative to scans that do use radiation.
  • An MRI scan can take as little as 10 minutes or as long 2 hours. The duration depends on the specific purpose of the MRI scan.
  • Japan has the highest number of MRI units per capita, with 43.1 units per million people. The United States comes in second place with 25.9 MRI units per million population.

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