Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is an important and invaluable diagnostic tool that saves an untold number of lives every year. However, a certain type of MRI scanning procedure can kill those who have compromised or weakened kidneys.
The type of MRI that can be dangerous to those with weakened kidneys involve the use of a widely used contrast agent containing gadolinium. MRI contrast agents are used to take clearer MRI images of the body's internal organs; they are injected into the blood vessels in the patient's hand or arm just before the scan. MRIs only require contrast agents in certain types of scans.
The Health Risks of Gadolinium Contrast Agents
Gadolinium-based contrast agents can increase the chances of developing a rare disease called nephrogenic systemic fibrosis (NSF) in patients with weakened kidneys. In such patients, after the gadolinium is administered, it cannot be excreted and remains in the body for a long period of time - which can lead to the development of NSF. NSF can cause lesions and thickening of the skin, organs and tissues, causing difficulty in moving joints. Eventually, NSF causes the organs to fail. Once contracted, NSF cannot be treated.
What You Can Do To Protect Yourself
To guard against developing NSF, patients should ask their doctors before their MRIs if a gadolinium-based contrast agent will be used. If gadolinium will be used, people with histories of kidney problems should let their doctor know of their concerns. The doctor may be able to use another type of diagnostic imaging. However, if a MRI is medically necessary, doctors can use a lower dose or put the patient on hemodialysis after the MRI to filter out the Gandolinium from the patient's blood.
Source: "Is gadolinium safe for people with kidney problems?," Mayo Clinic