MR Angiography

Angiography to diagnose and treat blood vessel-related diseases. Angiography exams produce pictures of major blood vessels throughout the body. In some cases, contrast material is used.

An MRA exam may or may not use contrast material. If needed, an injection of a gadolinium-based contrast material may be used. Gadolinium is less likely to cause an allergic reaction than the iodinated contrast material used in CT angiography. The technologist will usually administer the contrast material by placing a small intravenous (IV) catheter in a vein within the arm.

What are some common uses of the procedure?

MR angiography (MRA) is used to examine blood vessels in key areas of the body. A healthcare provider may order an MRA for :

  • Identify abnormalities, such as aneurysms, in the aorta, both in the chest and abdomen, or in other arteries.
  • Detect atherosclerotic (plaque) disease in the carotid artery of the neck, which may limit blood flow to the brain and cause a stroke.
  • Identify a arteriovenous malformation inside the brain or elsewhere.
  • Detect plaque disease that has narrowed the arteries to the legs and help prepare for angioplasty/stent placement or surgery.
  • Detect disease in the arteries to the kidneys or visualize blood flow to help prepare for a kidney transplant or stent placement.
    guide interventional radiologists and surgeons making repairs to diseased blood vessels, such as implanting stents or evaluating a stent after implantation.
  • Detect injury to one or more arteries in the neck, chest, abdomen, pelvis, or limbs following trauma.
  • Evaluate arteries feeding a tumor prior to surgery or other procedures such as chemoembolization or selective internal radiation therapy.
  • Identify dissection or splitting in the aorta in the chest or abdomen or its major branches.
  • Show the extent and severity of coronary artery disease and its effects and plan for an intervention, such as a coronary bypass and stenting.
  • Examine pulmonary arteries in the lungs to detect pulmonary embolism (blood clots, such as those traveling from leg veins) or pulmonary AVMs.
  • Look at congenital abnormalities in blood vessels, especially arteries in children (e.g., malformations in the heart or other blood vessels due to congenital heart disease).
  • Evaluate stenosis and obstructions of vessels.
  • Screen individuals for arterial disease, especially patients with a family history of it.

What are the benefits?  

  • MRA uses a magnetic field and radio frequency waves instead of ionizing radiation (X-rays).
  • MRA is less invasive than conventional angiograms which require placing a catheter deep into the arterial blood supply.
  • MRA eliminates the risk of artery damage. If contrast is required, it is administered through a small vein in the arm.
  • The recovery time for MRA is minimal. After the scan is completed, you can resume your normal daily activities.
  • An MRA exam may help you avoid exploratory surgery.
  • When iodinated contrast material is not recommended, MRA can be used as a substitute exam.
  • For patients with liver or kidney problems, certain MRA exams may be performed successfully without the use of any contrast material. 

Are there any risks?

  • Any medical devices implanted into your body may be at risk of malfunction due to the strong magnetic field.
  • In very rare cases, in patients with poor kidney function, nephrogenic systemic fibrosis is a possible complication when contrast is used.
  • Gadolinium-based contrast has a very slight risk of causing an allergic reaction which can usually be easily treated.
  • Pregnant women should consult with their physician prior to an MRI exam. However, there have been no documented negative effects of MRI in the many years of its medical usage, and MRI is often the method of imaging chosen for pregnant women and fetuses. However, MRI contrast agents are not recommended to be used during pregnancy unless the benefits far outweigh the risks.
  • The ACR states that current information suggests breastfeeding is safe after the use of intravenous contrast. Please discuss your breastfeeding options with your healthcare provider.

How should I prepare?

  • Guidelines about eating and drinking before an MRI exam will vary. You will be informed of any exam preparations required during the scheduling of your exam.
  • Before your MRI exam you will be asked to change into a gown and remove all undergarments that may have metal fasteners or fibers.
  • Jewelry and other metal objects can not be worn during the exam. Please try to leave them at home if possible.
  • You must notify the technologist if you have any implanted medical devices or any metal in your body. These can interfere with the exam and can cause harm during an MRI because of the strength of the magnet.
  • Inform the technologist if you are pregnant or suspect you might be pregnant


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