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For More InfoCardiac MRI

Cardiac MRI is a new service being offered at Martha Jefferson Hospital with locations in Charlottesville and Central Virginia.  Cardiac Magnetic Resonance Imaging is a unique imaging method in that unlike x-rays, radioisotope studies, and even computed tomography (CT) studies, it does not rely on radiation.  Instead, radio waves are directed at protons, the nuclei of hydrogen atoms, in a strong magnetic field.  The protons are first “excited” and then “relaxed”, causing them to emit radio signals that can be computer-processed to form an image.  In the body, protons are most abundant in the hydrogen atoms of water, so that MRI shows differences in the water content and distribution in various body tissues.  Cardiac MRI has been used for years to diagnose a broad range of conditions in all parts of the body, including stroke, cancer, and joint and musculoskeletal disorders.  More recently, this technology has been applied to the heart and vascular structures.

Common Indications for Cardiac MRI
How is the Procedure Performed
Benefits of Cardiac MRI
Potential Contraindications/Disadvantes of Cardiac MRI

Fluid in the lining surrounding the heart (pericardium)

Cardiac MRI is becoming important in the initial diagnosis and subsequent management of coronary heart disease.  Cardiac MRI can potentially help physicians look closely at the structures and function of the heart and major vessels thoroughly, and non-invasively.  Using Cardiac MRI, physicians can examine the size and thickness of the chambers of the heart, whether the flow of blood is blocked in any chamber or major vessel, and whether the heart muscles are damaged.  An MRI examination can also help the physician understand how well the heart is pumping.

Other uses of Cardiac MRI include evaluation of the valves of the heart, the pericardium (the lining surrounding the heart), tumors that may affect the heart as well as diseases that may affect the aorta as it comes out of the heart.  More and more, Cardiac MRI is being used as part of the traditional cardiac stress test to help physicians with earlier diagnosis and treatment of a variety of heart diseases and to assess the patient’s recovery after treatment.

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Standard views of normal heart during Cardiac MRI examination

The patient is placed on a sliding table and positioned comfortably for the MRI examination.  EKG leads are placed on the patient in order to image relative to the patients cardiac cycle, which allows for optimal resolution.  One or two intravenous lines may be placed in the arms in order to administer contrast material to enhance the visibility of the heart’s chambers and major vessels.  A medicine called Adenosine may also be given in order to provide pharmacologic stress to the heart.  This aids in detecting abnormal blood flow to an area of the heart which may not be seen when the heart is at rest. This medicine is well tolerated and may cause a mild flushing or warm sensation as well as transient changes in heart rate. A Cardiac MRI study generally takes from 30 minutes to 1 hour depending on the clinical question.

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Benefits of Cardiac MRI include excellent resolution of images with great detail.  These qualities make MRI an invaluable tool in early detection and evaluation of coronary disease.  MRI does not require exposure to radiation or the introduction of radioisotopes to the body.  MRI contrast is less likely to produce an allergic reaction than the iodine-based materials used for conventional x-rays and CT scanning and does not contain the radioisotopes used in nuclear medicine.  Finally, MRI provides a fast, noninvasive and often less expensive alternative to other techniques of cardiac diagnosis.

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Patients with pacemakers or defibrillators cannot have an MRI. Some patients may experience claustrophobia (approximately 5%) and may require sedation to complete the exam.  In most cases, patients with internal metal (i.e. surgical clips, vascular stents) can undergo an MRI, with the exception of a few types of metal. Therefore, patients should inform the MRI technologist of a metal implant prior to the test.  Patients that are medically unstable are not ideal candidates for Cardiac MRI as the images may not be as clear.

For more information about Cardiac MRI, click here.

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