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Cardiac MRI Scan

What is a cardiac MRI scan?

A Cardiac MRI scan is a scan of the heart that is used to diagnose a large range of associated conditions. The scan takes a number of images that can be linked together to create a 3D picture which helps a doctor or radiologist correct detect and diagnose conditions.

A Cardiac MRI can detect conditions like heart disease, blood vessel disease and heart defects. Unlike traditional x-rays, MRIs have the ability to pick up tiny details, as well as soft tissue matter.

While a cardiac MRI may sound overwhelming, it’s actually a very quick and non-invasive test that’s painless and safe. In this article, we detail how the test is done and how it works, and well as how to prepare and what to expect.

How do cardiac MRI scans work?

In order to be referred for an abdominal x ray, you will need to visit a physical first. Here, the doctor will run a physical exam and speak about your symptoms. If a patient is experiencing any of the following issues, a doctor may order an abdominal x-ray.

  • Abdominal pain or discomfort
  • Vomiting that worsens or doesn’t improve within a few days
  • Diarrhea that worsens or doesn’t improve within a few days
  • Constipation that worsens or doesn’t improve within a few days
  • Abdominal swelling
  • significant nausea
  • Lower back pain
  • If you’ve been involved in an injury that affects the abdominal area
  • If an obstruction is suspected

Below are a number of conditions that an abdominal x-ray can help diagnose.

  • An abdominal aortic aneurysm
  • Abdominal distension
  • Broken bones or fractures in the pelvic area
  • Addison’s disease
  • Anemia (idiopathic aplastic or secondary aplastic)
  • Pancreatitis
  • Small or large bowel obstruction
  • Appendicitis
  • Ascariasis
  • Atheroembolic renal disease
  • Blind loop syndrome
  • Echinococcus infection
  • Hirschsprung’s disease
  • Intestinal pseudo-obstruction (primary or idiopathic)
  • Intussusception (in children)
  • Necrotizing enterocolitis
  • Nephrocalcinosis
  • Toxic megacolon
  • An injury of the uterus
  • Wilms’ tumor
  • GI perforation

How to prepare for your abdominal x-ray

During a cardiac MRI, a narrow beam x-ray beam will rotate around the area that’s been scanned. The high-strength magnet and radio waves that are used generate pictures of internal organs and structures, which are then produced on a computer screen. This type of scan can also show a doctor how well blood is moving throughout the heart area.

The x-ray beam takes multiple images through the scan, and these images are taken in extremely quick succession and from multiple angles. Once the pictures are taken, computer programs have the ability to link these images up to produce a 3-d image for the technician to use to diagnose the condition.

Unlike X-rays, an MRI doesn’t use radiation. Instead, it harnesses radiowaves from data that already exist in the body, meaning it won’t cause chemical change or damage to tissue.

Sometimes, technicians use a contrast agent when conducting cardiac MRI scans. This means that the recipient of the scan will be administered a contrast dye (this is usually done through IV or barium meal). The dye helps produce clearer images of internal organs and tissues and assists doctors to detect certain issues.

Why might you need a cardiac MRI?

During the scan 

When you arrive for your abdominal x-ray, you will check with the receptionist like a normal doctor’s appointment. When it’s your time for the scan, you will be taken to the x-ray room where you’ll find a medical table and an x-ray machine hanging over the top.

With an abdominal x ray, you will almost always be given a hospital gown to change into. Once you’re dressed in the gown, you’ll be asked to sit on an exam table. A technician will help to positive you so that you’re lying correctly so that the x ray machine will capture the correct areas. Sometimes they’ll put a lead mat over other areas of your body that don’t need to be captured in the photo/s.

After this, the technician or radiologist will head into a separate room or an area that’s partitioned off. They will then capture the images and it’s important that you stay very still during this time. Even the slightest movement can create a blur in the photos.

Depending on your specific issue, the technician may come back and position your differently a few times, so that they can capture images of different areas.

Once the photos are taken, the technician will usually ask you to wait a few minutes while they check that the x-rays are all clear. If so, you’ll be able to change back into your regular clothes and continue about your day as normal.

After the scan

An abdominal x ray is a non-invasive procedure, so there generally won’t’ be anything special you need to do once the x ray is completed. However, in very rare cases, a patient can have an allergic reaction to an x-ray. So, if you notice any symptoms of an allergy at all, like hives or a rash, then you should contact a doctor immediately.

The images from abdominal x-rays are available immediately. However, in most cases, a doctor will need some time to analyse them and diagnose the problem. Once this is done, the doctor’s office will contact you for a follow-up appointment to discuss your results and their findings. This will usually be a day or two after the appointment. If your condition is urgent, a doctor may prioritise your results and have them ready immediately.

What are the benefits of an abdominal x-ray?

A Cardiac MRI will almost always need to be ordered by a referring physician. This means that the patient will have met with a medical professional prior to their scan, and the professional will have spoken to them about their symptoms or issues.

If a doctor detects that the patient may have a condition that can be detected with an MRI, they will recommend a cardiac MRI. If you are experiencing any of the following issues, you may be referred to have a cardiac MRI.

  • Shortness of breath in the chest
  • Pain in the chest
  • Weakness, light-headedness, nausea
  • Pain or discomfort in the arms or shoulder
  • Heart palpitations

Below are a number of conditions that a cardiac MRI scan can help diagnose.

  • An enlarged heart
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Heart failure
  • Heart muscle damage, inflammation, infiltration and infection
  • Heart valve disease
  • Heart disease
  • Cancer and other masses
  • Heart defects

How to prepare for your cardiac MRI scan

A cardiac MRI is a non-invasive test and won’t require much preparation in the lead up to your scan. Patients are usually able to eat and drink as normal up until their scan. However, it’s always a good idea to check with the referring technician if there are any special requirements because some scans may be slightly different. For example, sometimes patients who are having an MRI with a contrast agent, or who are claustrophobic and will be sedated, may be required to stop eating and/or drinking for a certain period before the scan.

All MRIs require patients to remove all metal objects from their body. This includes things like jewellery, piercings and a watch. While it’s possible to remove these items at the clinic, it’s a good idea to take them off before you leave home to save some time.

If a patient has a metal object implanted in their body – like a hearing ad or pacemaker, then it’s very important that they let their technician know about this prior to the scan taking place.

What To Expect from your cardiac MRI scan

During the scan

When you arrive for your scan, a receptionist will check you in like a normal doctor’s appointment. Once the technician is ready for your scan you will be taken to a room where you’ll find a large tubular machine – this is the MRI machine.

For a cardiac MRI, you’ll be asked to change into a hospital gown, and a technician or radiologist will have a quick consultation with you to answer any questions you may have. If your scan requires a contrast agent, the physician will administer it before the scan.

Once you’ve changed into your gown the technician will ask you to lie on a thin metal table, and adjust your body into a position so that the scan can clearly capture the required images. You’ll almost be fitted with earphones and a buzzer – these tools allow you to speak to the physician while you’re in the test, and the earphones can also help to block out the loud noises.

The technician will then slide the table you are lying on into the MRI machine. These machines are usually loud and dark, so if you’re claustrophobic you should inform your technician about this prior to the scan.

The scan itself should only take a few minutes, and it’s very important to stay completely still, as even the smallest movement can blur the image. Once the scan is completed, the physician will slide you out of the MRI machine and you’ll be able to continue your day as normal.

After the scan

Patients shouldn’t feel any different after an MRI scan unless they have had a sedative for claustrophobic purposes.

In very rare cases, patients can be allergic to MRI, so if you notice any allergic reactions at all -like a rash or hives – then you should contact a doctor immediately.

Patients can usually respect results from an MRI about a week after the scan. However, if the doctor suspects the condition is more urgent, they will be able to order results more quickly. A doctor’s office should be in touch with you after the scan to organise a follow-up appointment to discuss your results.

What are the benefits of cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)?

MRI scans are an advanced X-ray technique that can identify many conditions that a traditional x-ray isn’t able to. Below are some reasons why Cardiac MRI scans are commonly used.

  • They can identify issues with soft tissues within the shoulder, which traditional x-rays can’t
  • The preciseness of an MRI means that they are able to pick up very small abnormalities that may not otherwise be evident
  • MRIs are non-invasive and don’t involve any radiation, meaning they are a very safe procedure.
  • The results are quick, which can mean that treatment can be started quickly


Why would a doctor order an MRI for your heart?

There are a variety of conditions that, if a doctor suspects, may order an MRI for your heart. Some of these include heart disease, heart failure, and heart defects. A doctor may also use a cardiac MRI to monitor existing conditions, diseases of defects.

How long does a cardiac MRI take?

A patient should allocate about 45 minutes for a cardiac MRI appointment. However, this can vary greatly if a sedative (for claustrophobic patients) or a contrast agent is used. While the appointment usually takes a little under an hour this includes preparation time, the scan itself generally only takes a few minutes.

Does cardiac MRI show blockages?

Generally, yes. Cardiac MRIs are relatively accurate in showing cardiac blockages in large sections of the coronary organs. However, they may miss blockages in smaller organs. If a physician detects a blockage, they may order a test called a CT coronary angiogram.

What does a cardiac MRI show?

A cardiac MRI shows internal organs and tissues and shows how well they are working. It can also show if there’s damage to the areas in the heart or close by, as well as how well the blood is moving.

Is a heart MRI uncomfortable?

Cardiac MRIs are non-invasive treatments, and shouldn’t cause any discomfort. However, some patients may feel discomfort during the process of the scan. This is due to having to lay still in the same place while the images are being taken – and also can be due to the loud noise and dark tube that the patient will be laying in.

Will a doctor automatically recommend an MRI if I have heart pain?

Not necessarily. A doctor will conduct a physical exam and speak with you about your symptoms. If they think suspect a condition that a cardiac MRI will be able to detect, then they will refer you for a scan.