It is important to remove all metal from the body before entering the MRI scanner, including watches, jewelry, glasses, belts, hairpins, body piercings, removable dental appliances and hearing aids. (People with pacemakers, cochlear implants and clips for brain aneurysm are generally advised to check with one of the cardiac MRI physicians before the test day to make sure the test will be possible.) Electrodes are attached to the chest to monitor heart rhythm, and an imaging coil is strapped over the chest.
Some, but not all, cardiac MRIs require IV contrast or dye, which highlights certain areas in or functions of the heart. The most common type of contrast is gadolinium-like, which is safe and has a minimal risk of side effects. This contrast is given through an IV (intravenous) needle. However, people with severe kidney disease or those who are on dialysis should not take it, as well as women who are pregnant.
If you are also supposed to undergo a stress MRI, we will give you a stress medication through an IV as part of the exam (adenosine or regadenoson). This is a different medication than the contrast dye.
How long it will take?
A cardiac MRI takes 30 to 90 minutes to complete, depending on how many images your doctor needs. During that time, you will lie with your head and chest inside the MRI scanner. At certain points, you will be asked to hold your breath and lie still for several seconds to capture a particular image on the computer.
You will wear headphones both to block out some of the noise of the scanner and to receive instructions from the technicians. You may also listen to the radio or a portable music player brought from home during the MRI.
What if I have claustrophobia?
People who suffer from claustrophobia, a fear of small spaces, may take a mild sedative prior to the test. Every effort is made to make the MRI a pleasant experience, and the vast majority of patients complete the exam successfully.
Do I have to wait for my results?
When the MRI is over, the IV and electrodes are removed, and you will be free to go. (Patients who have used sedation must wait until they are fully alert.) The results will be sent to your doctor.
To make an appointment for a heart-imaging test, please call 1-202-877-5000.