When the average person walks into a doctor’s office or other medical scenario, we expect to hear complex terminology tossed around. Still, it’s never comforting to feel like you don’t know what’s about to enter or happen to your body.
Consumers are rapidly adopting technology and online tools to take more responsibility when it comes to their health decisions. One way they’re taking more control over their health is to learn about common medical procedures one at a time so they’re more prepared if the subject arises. Let’s start with MRI contrast and a specific substance called gadolinium contrast.
What is MRI contrast?
You’ve likely heard of an MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging. During this procedure, a machine creates a magnetic field around your body. The protons in various types of body tissue react to that magnetic field in different ways, which allows the machine to capture an internal image of your body tissues.
In some cases, the magnetic field alone is not sufficient to create images that enable your doctor to make decisions on your care. As a result, gadolinium contrast (sometimes called dye) is used to enhance the images made by your MRI and allow your doctors to image certain parts of your body more precisely. At your imaging center, a radiologist or technician injects the gadolinium contrast fluid into your body and, true to its name, the fluid creates more contrast in the image so there’s more detail.
When might I need an MRI with contrast?
Contrast is common in circumstances when doctors need particularly high levels of detail in your MRI. The doctor might be looking for a condition that tends to be hard to see, or they might be viewing an organ or area that often lacks detail on MRIs without contrast.
Ultimately, the use of contrast is decided on a case-by-case basis by your doctor, depending on each patient’s needs. If your doctor decides you do need contrast, they will typically order your MRI “with and without contrast,” creating one set of images without the gadolinium contrast and one with the contrast.
Is gadolinium contrast safe?
The idea of an MRI alone is scary to some, and when you add the injection of a chemical they’ve never heard of, it doesn’t help. Fortunately, though, MRIs with gadolinium contrast are a generally safe procedure.
Although researchers have found that trace amounts of the contrast chemical can stay in your body for extended periods of time, this hasn’t been found to cause any health problems in people, As a result, the FDA maintains that contrast agents are safe and their benefits continue to outweigh any potential risks.
How can I find an affordable MRI with contrast?
While we all would love to be able to simply get the best medical care we need without worrying about the cost, price is an unavoidable part of the healthcare system today. Unfortunately, MRI's with contrast are more expensive than MRI's without contrast. That doesn’t mean you don’t have options, though.
Shop around for your MRI with contrast. Start calling around to various MRI providers in your area and ask for their pricing so you can compare. Keep in mind that to get accurate pricing, you must give them the specific CPT code on your doctor’s order. (You may need to ask your doctor’s office for this code if it’s not written on your doctor’s order.)
A CPT code is a medical code created by the American Medical Association that corresponds to the specific procedure or medical service that you receive. For instance, one CPT code refers to an MRI of your lumbar spine, another to an MRI of your cervical spine, and so on. This reduces miscommunications and ensures that your entire medical team (and health insurance companies) are on the same page about the exact care that you need.
From there, call around to various MRI providers in your area. Give them that CPT code and ask for their prices, both for paying in cash and for using your insurance if you have insurance. In general, MRIs will be more affordable at imaging centers compared to hospitals. You may be surprised, however; in many cases, you can get the cheapest MRI by paying cash rather than using your insurance.
Getting help from the pros
As you can imagine, shopping around for the cheapest MRI can take a lot of time, especially if you live in an urban area with many MRI providers. Your other option is to use Imaging Panda to get a cheap MRI with contrast. We’ve done all this legwork for you - we’ve found the cash prices for the MRI centers near you and simplified the entire appointment booking process. Based on your doctor’s order, we can help you find the cheapest MRI without sacrificing quality.