MRI Scans with Contrast versus MRI Scans without Contrast

If you’re in need of an MRI, your doctor likely gave you a written order detailing the type of scan you need. You should see the area that your doctor wants to scan, but you may also see that your MRI is listed as “with contrast” or “without contrast.”

What does this mean? What is contrast in an MRI scan, and what is the difference between MRI scans with contrast versus MRI scans without contrast?

How Do MRI Scans Work With and Without Contrast?

Before we dive into contrast, let’s get a general understanding of how MRIs work. MRI stands for magnetic resonance imaging. The machine creates a magnetic field around your body and then it sends radio waves through the field. When the radio waves return, they carry information that allows the machine to form an internal image of your body.

MRIs are generally very detailed and effective for medical imaging. Sometimes you need more detail and definition, though, and this is where contrast comes in.

Contrast is a liquid made from the element gadolinium. Your radiologist or medical team uses an IV to send this contrast liquid through your veins, and it affects the way that radio waves interact with certain body tissues. The result is a more detailed image of certain features and organs within your body.

Pros and Cons of MRIs With and Without Contrast

The obvious advantage of contrast dye in MRIs is that it provides a better image, specifically for certain conditions and organs. If that’s the case, though, why don’t all MRIs use it?

The simple fact is that contrast isn’t necessary in many cases. There is a small risk of side effects from contrast liquid, and while these side effects are generally mild and temporary, it’s better to avoid that risk altogether if it’s not a necessity. Contrast is also not ideal for patients with kidney disease because their kidneys don’t flush out the contrast as efficiently as healthy kidneys.

MRI Scans with Contrast versus MRI Scans without Contrast: What Type Will I Need?

Your doctor’s order for an MRI with or without contrast will depend on multiple factors, but primarily on the type of condition they’re looking for.

Contrast is particularly useful for showing detailed images of blood vessels, internal inflammation, and tumors, especially small tumors. It also helps to show the blood supply to specific organs.

As a result, contrast MRIs are particularly useful for diagnosing cancer or measuring its progression, as well as evaluating certain cardiovascular conditions. Contrast MRIs are also common for tracking the progression of multiple sclerosis or MS.

How to Get the MRI Scans You Need

Your doctor has weighed the benefits of MRI scans with contrast versus MRI scans without contrast for your specific needs and has made this decision based on your health. Now that you know what to look for, it’s time to shop around for the MRI scan you need.

Instead of calling every imaging center in your area, use a tool like Imaging Panda. Simply input your doctor’s specifications and receive a list of MRI scans with or without contrast near you, including price comparisons. Get started with our tool today.