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Magnetic Resonance Imaging Of The Chest

What is an MRI?

A magnetic resonance imaging scan is also called an MRI. An MRI uses magnetic fields and radio waves to take pictures of the inside of your body. A chest MRI is done to see your blood vessels (veins and arteries), breasts, and bones of the chest. It will also show pictures of your lungs and heart.

Why do I need an MRI of the chest?

You may need an MRI for any of the following reasons:

  • An MRI can be used to look for a disease, such as breast cancer. If you are at risk of getting a certain disease, your caregiver may want to do an MRI to look for signs of the disease. If a problem is found, you and your caregiver can decide how best to treat it.

  • An MRI can help find a disease of the lungs or show tumors (growths) in the chest.

  • An MRI can guide or help caregivers plan procedures or tests.

  • If you are being treated for a medical condition, an MRI can show how well treatments, such as chemotherapy, are working.

  • You may need an MRI of the chest if you have certain signs or symptoms. Symptoms may include chest pain, shortness of breath, or fever (high body temperature).

  • If another test, such as an x-ray, showed a problem, an MRI can help caregivers learn more about it.

What problems may be uncovered by an MRI of the chest?

  • Blood vessel problems: An MRI can show if you have a blocked, narrow, wide, or damaged blood vessel. You may need an MRI before you have a catheter put into your vein. This is a small tube that can be used to give you medicines and liquids. The MRI may show if the blood vessel is blocked and can help guide caregivers as they insert the catheter.

  • Growths, such as a mass or tumor: An MRI may show a growth in your sternum (breastbone) or ribs or in the muscles of your chest. An MRI may show if you have a lump in your lung or breast. An MRI may be done to check for growths if another test, such as a mammography, showed a problem. Checking for lumps also may be needed if you are at high risk of getting breast cancer.

  • Heart disease: You may receive an MRI if you have had a myocardial infarction (heart attack). An MRI can show the size of your ventricles (chambers of the heart). Special types of MRI can show how well your ventricles contract (squeeze) and pump blood. Other MRI can also show how well blood is flowing through your heart and to your coronary vessels.

  • Infection: An MRI can show an infection in the bones, muscles, or soft tissue of your chest. An MRI can also show an infection in your lungs or heart.

  • Lung problems: An MRI can show if you have empyema, a condition where fluid or pus collects in your lungs. An MRI can also show if you have pleural thickening. This can be caused by an infection in the lining of your lungs.

  • Fractures: An MRI can show fractured (broken) bones in your sternum or one or more of your ribs. Your ribs are the bones that go from the sternum around your chest and to your spine.

Why may I be unable to have an MRI of the chest?

Before having an MRI, tell caregivers if any of the following are true for you:

  • You are pregnant: Your caregiver may not want you to have an MRI during your pregnancy, unless it is an emergency. Tell your caregiver if you know or think that you might be pregnant.

  • You are allergic to iodine or dye: Dye (contrast liquid) may be used during an MRI. If you know that you are allergic to iodine (found in shellfish, such as shrimp) or dye, tell your caregiver.

  • You have metal in your body: This includes an insulin pump or a prosthetic (man-made) body part. It also includes screws or plates that may have been placed during surgery. Medicine patches that are used to treat a heart condition or for birth control may contain metal. Tattoos or permanent cosmetics, such as eyeliner, may also contain metal. These items increase the risk of burns and injuries during the MRI. Tell caregivers if you have any of these in or on your body. Tell caregivers if you have done welding or have worked with or around metal in the past. Tell caregivers if you have had a metal object stuck in your eye in the past. Having worked with or been injured by metal in the past increases your risk of still having small pieces of metal in your body.

  • You have a medical device in your body that contains metal: These devices include pacemakers, defibrillators, aneurysm clips, heart valves, shunts, and certain stents. Cochlear (inner ear) implants and intrauterine devices (IUD) may also contain metal.

  • You have claustrophobia: Claustrophobia is a fear of small, closed spaces. If you have this fear, your caregiver may offer you medicine to help you relax or go to sleep during the MRI. Ask your caregiver if you can have a friend or family member in the room with you during the MRI. Ask your caregiver what else can be done so that you can have an MRI.

  • You have trouble lying flat or still: You may have a medical condition that makes it very hard to lie flat or without moving for a period of time. If you cannot lie flat, or you have trouble lying still, tell your caregiver.

What will happen during an MRI of the chest?

  • You will be asked to remove jewelry, earrings, and all removable metal objects. If you have a medical device, it may need to be turned off before your MRI. You will lie down on a table with your arms at your sides. Your caregiver may put padding and cushions around and under you. You may be given earplugs or headphones to decrease the noise of the MRI machine. The table will slide into the round tube in the center of the machine. You will hear loud banging, tapping, or chirping noises as the machine takes pictures of the inside of your chest. The noise is caused by the magnets in the machine moving during the test. You may be asked to take a deep breath and hold it during parts of the MRI or to breathe deeply during the test.
    Picture of a Magnetic Resonance Imaging closed machine


  • You will need to hold very still during the test so the pictures are clear. If you suddenly feel odd or feel a warm or hot area on your body during the MRI, tell caregivers immediately. You may need dye to help your body parts show up better in the pictures. The dye is given to you through an intravenous (IV) tube placed in one of your veins. Other procedures, such as taking a biopsy (sample) of tissue, may be done during the MRI. Ask your caregiver for more information if you need another procedure done during your MRI.

What are the risks of having an MRI?

  • If dye is used during your MRI, it may damage your kidneys. This risk is higher if you have diabetes or kidney disease. If you have metal in or on your body during the MRI, the metal may heat to a dangerous level and cause a burn. If you had surgery to have a coil, stent, or filter placed in your body recently, it may move out of place during the MRI. An MRI can make medical devices work wrong or stop working. You may have short-term hearing loss after an MRI.

  • If you do not have an MRI, a medical problem may not be found. If a medical problem is not found and treated, it may get worse. Without an MRI, your caregiver may not find a disease in the early stages when it may be treated more easily. If you have symptoms, such as shortness of breath or pain, your symptoms may get worse. If you have a lump, it may grow bigger. Having an MRI before or during surgery helps caregivers plan for and complete the surgery. Without an MRI, you may not know if a treatment that you are getting is working. Your condition may get worse, and you may die. Talk to your caregiver if you are worried or have questions about having an MRI of the chest.

When should I call my caregiver?

Call your caregiver if:

  • You cannot make it to your MRI.

  • You think you may be pregnant.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment.

© 2013 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of the Blausen Databases or Truven Health Analytics.

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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