Overlake’s accredited cardiac MRI program features the latest technology and is overseen by Joel Wilson, MD, who is among the nation’s few cardiologists with fellowship training in cardiac imaging. Dr. Wilson uses his expertise to provide the most accurate interpretation of your cardiac MRI scan. This gives you access to a level of expertise and care that is available at only a handful of heart centers in the U.S.
A cardiac MRI provides detailed images of the heart and surrounding blood vessels (your cardiovascular system). This information is key to making an accurate diagnosis and developing the most effective treatment plan for you.
What is a cardiac MRI?
A cardiac MRI uses powerful magnetic fields, radio waves and a computer to capture images of the cardiovascular system from multiple angles. The machine takes still and moving images of the heart and blood vessels.
Your testing at Overlake’s Heart and Vascular Center takes place with a dedicated cardiac MRI machine exclusive for heart imaging. This delivers better, more accurate cardiac images than standard MRI machines that weren’t specifically designed to view the heart.
What is the purpose of a cardiac MRI?
Our heart specialists use cardiac MRIs to diagnose heart conditions, develop treatment plans and evaluate the success of heart procedures. A cardiac MRI can aid the diagnosis and treatment of:
- Aortic diseases.
- Cardiothoracic conditions, including coronary artery disease.
- Chest pain (angina).
- Congenital heart defects.
- Heart attacks and heart failure.
- Heart muscle diseases, like cardiomyopathy.
- Heart tumors.
- Heart valve disease.
- Pericarditis and other diseases that affect the outer lining of the heart.
- Vascular diseases.
What are the types of cardiac MRIs?
Overlake has the latest cardiac MRI technology to perform all types of cardiac imaging. In addition to standard (noncontrast) cardiac MRIs, we also specialize in:
- MRIs with contrast: You receive an IV injection of an- iodine-free contrast agent, called gadolinium, which travels through the bloodstream to the heart and blood vessels. This liquid helps us take images in the highest resolution possible. These images make it easier for your doctor to see the heart and blood vessels in action. This means your doctor can more clearly identify inflammation, cardiac tumors and other problems.
- MRI stress tests: A cardiac MRI with contrast takes place after you get an IV injection of medication that opens up the coronary arteries in the same way they would open up during exercise. You may get an MRI stress test if you’re unable to complete a standard exercise stress test, which is typically done on a treadmill or exercise bike.
What are the benefits of a cardiac MRI?
Benefits of a cardiac MRI include:
- Noninvasive, painless procedure.
- No radiation exposure.
- Iodine-free contrast agents rarely cause allergic reactions and are safe for people with kidney problems.
What are the risks of a cardiac MRI?
A cardiac MRI is a relatively safe, noninvasive test. Potential issues include:
Contrast agent reactions
Rarely, the contrast agent gadolinium causes nausea, headaches or pain at the IV site. Allergic reactions like hives, itching and swelling are less common. We monitor you closely for signs of a problem throughout the test and recovery. When needed, we quickly take steps to counteract a reaction.
An MRI machine’s powerful magnetic field poses a risk to people who have implantable metal devices like heart rhythm devices (pacemakers and implantable cardioverter defibrillators) and neurostimulators. Our heart surgeons place newer MRI-compatible heart rhythm devices, so it’s safe to get this scan. If you have an older device, your doctor may order a different test.
What should you expect when getting a cardiac MRI?
A cardiac MRI requires lying still inside a tube-like machine for 30 to 60 minutes. It’s an outpatient procedure, which means you go home the same day.
The dedicated cardiac MRI machine at Overlake has a wider opening and shorter tunnel than traditional MRIs. Should you experience feelings of claustrophobia, our MRI technologists can help you cope so you can safely complete the testing.
The machine’s magnet makes loud thumping noises. A hospital-provided headset helps soften this noise.
What should you expect before a cardiac MRI?
Before getting a cardiac MRI, you should:
- Remove anything that contains metal, including jewelry, dentures and hearing aids.
- Make sure your doctor knows if you have a metallic medical device or even metal gun shrapnel inside your body.
- Put on the headset.
What should you expect during a cardiac MRI?
An experienced MRI technologist operates the machine from another room and watches the procedure through a window. The headset allows you and the technologist to communicate. During a cardiac MRI, you:
- Have electrocardiogram (ECG) leads placed on your chest. These small sticky patches capture your heartbeat.
- Wear a lightweight vest with an interior radiofrequency receiver coil.
- Lie flat on your back on a scan table that slides inside the machine’s circular opening.
- Receive an IV injection of contrast fluid (if you’re getting a contrast MRI). You may feel some coolness or slight discomfort when the IV starts.
- Lie still as the machine takes images. You won’t be able to feel the radio waves or magnetic field.
- Hold your breath for a few seconds as directed by the technologist.
What should you expect after a cardiac MRI?
After a contrast MRI, your care team will monitor you for signs of an allergic reaction. Some people experience a metallic taste in their mouth, which is temporary. If you received a sedative before the test, someone needs to drive you home. You should tell your care team if you feel unwell at any point during or after the test.
Our cardiac imaging expert, Joel Wilson, MD, will review your scans. Rarely, the results indicate a life-threatening problem that requires immediate treatment. Most patients meet with their cardiologist within two weeks to get the scan results, which will also be available in MyChart.