I'm scheduled for an MRI and I have kidney problems. Will I be OK having an MRI?

Answers from Carl F. Anderson, M.D.

It depends on the type of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan you're scheduled to have — an MRI with contrast or an MRI without contrast. Contrast agents, including gadolinium (gad-oh-LIN-e-um), are used to enhance some MRI scans. Contrast agents are injected into a vein in your hand or arm. Not all MRIs require a contrast agent.

There are no special concerns for people with kidney problems having an MRI without contrast.

However, there are concerns if people with kidney problems — especially severe kidney failure (renal insufficiency) — are given a gadolinium-based contrast agent during an MRI.

Gadolinium-containing contrast agents may increase the risk of a rare but serious disease called nephrogenic systemic fibrosis in people with severe kidney failure. Nephrogenic systemic fibrosis triggers thickening of the skin, organs and other tissues. There's no demonstrated effective treatment for this serious, debilitating disease.

Before you have an MRI:

  • Ask your doctor if a gadolinium-based contrast agent will be used
  • Tell your doctor about your history of kidney problems

Your doctor may select a different imaging test, if possible. If your doctor still recommends an MRI with gadolinium despite the potential risks, you may be given the lowest possible dose of the form of gadolinium that's been associated with the fewest complications. Your doctor also may recommend hemodialysis — a procedure that filters wastes from your blood via a machine — immediately after the MRI.

May 16, 2014