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MRI: Is gadolinium safe for people with kidney problems?

Medically reviewed on June 3, 2017

It depends on the type of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan you're scheduled to have — an MRI with contrast or an MRI without contrast. There are no special concerns for people with kidney problems having an MRI without contrast.

Contrast agents, including gadolinium (gad-oh-LIN-e-um), are used to enhance some MRI scans. Contrast agents are injected into a vein in your hand or arm.

Gadolinium-containing contrast agents may increase the risk of a rare but serious disease called nephrogenic systemic fibrosis in people with severe kidney failure. Nephrogenic systemic fibrosis triggers thickening of the skin, organs and other tissues.

Before you have an MRI, make sure your doctor knows about your kidney problems. Blood tests can reveal how severely your kidney function is impaired, which can help determine your risk of nephrogenic systemic fibrosis.

If your doctor still recommends an MRI with gadolinium despite the potential risks, you may be given the lowest possible dose of the form of gadolinium that's been associated with the fewest complications.

Your doctor also may recommend hemodialysis — a procedure that filters wastes from your blood via a machine — immediately after the MRI.

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