What Is The Difference Between An MRI With & Without Contrast?

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is an advanced medical imaging technique for getting a detailed look at what is going on inside the body. Rather than relying on x-rays or radiation, an MRI uses radio waves and a strong magnetic field to obtain images that help doctors uncover injuries, illnesses, or chronic conditions and assess patient progress. At Intermountain Medical Imaging, we are a leading provider of MRIs in the Boise area. Depending on the procedure your healthcare provider orders, our skilled radiologists may use a contrast dye, which can help to highlight various organs, soft tissues, and body processes. The following explains the differences between an MRI with and without contrast.

How Contrast Impacts Your MRI

MRIs allow our radiologists to obtain detailed images of the various parts of your anatomy and inner body structure, which can be useful in diagnosing and treating a variety of potentially serious medical conditions. During the procedure, you will lie on a flat table, which is then moved into the round opening of the MRI machine. Using strong magnetic fields, the machine transmits radio waves through the body, and are then received by an antenna called a coil. This translates the radio waves into detailed 2-D and 3-D images, which your radiologist will then interpret.

MRIs are the preferred imaging method used for evaluating the following types of conditions:

  • Certain types of cancer
  • Abdominal and digestive tract issues;
  • Brain injuries and diseases, such as dementia;
  • Breast lumps and pre-cancerous conditions;
  • Congenital heart defects and disease;
  • Lung disease and damage;
  • Problems with vision and hearing function;
  • Problems concerning the veins or arteries;
  • Pelvic issues in women and prostate issues in men;
  • Spinal cord injuries and conditions impacting the discs;
  • Sports injuries and chronic conditions affecting soft tissues.
  • Infections and other inflammatory processes

Depending on what the referring provider listed as indications, a contrast agent may be helpful. Contrast allows the radiologist to obtain even more detailed images of organs and tissues while its fluid nature helps to capture how specific body processes are working. These detailed images aid the doctor with diagnosis, in treating your condition, and in determining whether additional procedures may be required.

Conditions That Contrast Can Aid In Diagnosing

Using contrast dye in an MRI can help your doctor accurately gauge important body functions and can aid in detecting growths or other abnormalities, as well as any response to treatment. Conditions in which contrast dye is commonly used include:

  • In treating heart problems: An MRI on its own cannot detect the flow of blood in the heart and through arteries or veins. Using contrast dye causes it to stand out.
  • In dealing with issues affecting the abdomen and pelvis: Using contrast materials highlight digestive problems, mass lesions, infection, and inflammation in the liver, kidneys, pancreas, bowel, as well as the male and female pelvic organs.
  • In diagnosing cancer: Contrast dye helps to isolate lesions or masses on body parts and organs, which aids in diagnosis and treatment.
  • In assessing brain functions: MRI with contrast can help patients with suspected brain injuries while illuminating masses or lesions that can aid in identifying conditions such as Cranial nerve diseases and Multiple Sclerosis (MS).
  • In addressing problems in the back, neck, or spinal cord: Contrast allows for more detail in detecting Inflammation and damage that can cause chronic pain and permanent disabilities.

Which Is Better – An MRI With Contrast or Without?

An MRI is a valuable tool your doctor has when it comes to treating a variety of potentially serious medical conditions. Neither is necessarily better than the other. Whether contrast dye is ordered will depend on your specific condition.

If contrast dye is used during your MRI, it will require a few additional steps. The dye can either be injected, taken orally by the patient, or inserted rectally. While the dye itself is generally safe, you will be screened for any allergies to prevent a reaction. These reactions are quite rare, but our facility has the medications needed to reverse them if required. Side effects are also minimal. If you experience discomfort, nausea, cramping, or itching, report it to your radiologist right away.

Intermountain Medical Imaging has been a trusted provider of MRI services in the Boise area for more than 20 years. Learn more about MRI and the types of contrast used at IMI