Heart MRI scans help create a detailed picture of the heart and surrounding blood vessels. A doctor can use this image to find and diagnose any potential issues.
A heart MRI scan, which doctors may also call a cardiac MRI, is a noninvasive test. It uses a combination of radio waves and a magnetic field to generate an image on a computer.
This article reviews who may need a heart MRI scan, what the scan can show, what to expect during the procedure, potential risks, and scan results and next steps.
People living with heart disease may also need regular monitoring with a heart MRI scan, such as individuals with congenital heart disease. Doctors may also order an MRI for infants to examine the heart for possible congenital anomalies.
A heart MRI scan can show several aspects related to the heart’s overall health, including how blood flows through the arteries and veins.
Some common aspects a doctor can detect on an MRI
- reduced blood flow in the heart muscle to help determine if a blockage in an artery may be the cause of chest pain
- tissue damage following a heart attack
- diseases that affect the heart muscle, such as heart failure, cardiac tumors, or cardiomyopathies
- problems with the aorta, such as bulging, tears, or narrowing
- inflammation in the cardiac muscle tissue
- heart valve disorders, such as stenosis or regurgitation
- congenital heart problems and the success of any corrective surgery
- diseases of the outer lining of the heart muscle, such as constrictive pericarditis
A person undergoing a heart MRI does not typically need to do any special preparation before the procedure. However, healthcare professionals will provide instructions on anything they may need to do before arrival.
An MRI scan typically involves the following steps and considerations:
- Individuals can continue to eat, drink, and take medications as usual unless a healthcare professional says otherwise.
- Once at the facility, a person will typically need to remove any jewelry and change into a hospital gown. They cannot take any metal or electronic items into the room where they are having the MRI scan.
- In some cases, an individual may receive intravenous contrast dye before the procedure. Contrast dyes may help a healthcare professional better see different areas on the MRI image.
- An MRI unit is a large machine with a hollow tube in the middle. A person will lie on a table that moves in and out of the tube during the scan.
- During the procedure, an individual needs to lay still and follow instructions from the healthcare professional. This may include when to take and hold their breath. The table may move in and out of the MRI unit, and there may be whirring or clicking sounds.
- After the healthcare professional captures the necessary images, the table will move out of the tube. A person can typically get dressed and leave unless they have an appointment with a doctor.
- The test should take about 90 minutes once the scan starts, although the exact time varies depending on what the scan shows.
- A person should arrange for someone else to drive them home if they received any sedation for the procedure, such as medications to help manage claustrophobia.
A heart MRI is generally safe and noninvasive.
People should inform a doctor if they:
- have had recent surgeries
- are living with any health conditions, such as kidney disease or any allergies
- are pregnant
A person with implanted medical devices
- cochlear implants
- implanted drug infusion pumps
- some dental implants
- implantable cardioverter defibrillators
- neuromuscular stimulators
- some intrauterine devices
- brain aneurysm clips
People living with anxiety or fear of small spaces may consider asking for a mild sedative before the procedure. This may help them lie still for the exam.
Some people who receive a contrast dye
Once the MRI scan is complete, the computer will render images of the heart and blood vessels. A doctor will then review the images and discuss the results with the person, usually at a follow-up appointment.
If the MRI results are inconclusive or a doctor needs more information, they may schedule additional testing or a repeat MRI. They will explain the reasons for any additional tests to the person.
A heart MRI scan is a noninvasive, generally safe procedure that helps doctors diagnose and monitor various heart conditions.
People do not typically need to do any special preparation, unless a healthcare professional says otherwise. People can also usually go home on the same day as the procedure.
A doctor will examine the results and discuss them with the person. A doctor will advise whether more tests are necessary.