What is a cardiac MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)?

A cardiac MRI uses a strong magnetic field, radio waves and a computer to produce detailed pictures of the chambers and structures of the heart.

The test is painless and does not use radiation. The images produced by this test can help determine the presence of abnormalities or irregular function of the heart, such as blocked arteries and leaky or stiff valves.

Why is a cardiac MRI done?

This test is used to evaluate the structures and function of the heart (the organ responsible for supplying all the body’s organs with oxygen-rich blood) and is performed for the following reasons:

  • Evaluate the cause of certain symptoms
  • Diagnose certain condition
  • Monitor changes in the heart

What does a cardiac MRI evaluate?

The test can help to evaluate the cause of symptoms of heart or circulation impairment, including:

  • Chest pain associated with strenuous activity, such as climbing stairs, heavy lifting, walking at a faster-than-normal rate, and emotional stress
  • Shortness of breath that occurs with minimal effort, such as walking
  • Reduced functional capacity or the need to rest during activities previously not considered strenuous, such as walking a given distance or climbing a flight of stairs
  • Back pain not associated with a musculoskeletal cause

What does a cardiac MRI diagnose?

The test is used to diagnose certain conditions involving the heart, including:

  • Tumors—an abnormal mass or collection of cells
  • Endocarditis—infection in the lining of a heart chamber or valve
  • Myocarditis—inflammation of the heart muscle (myocardium)
  • Blockages that affect blood flow in the arteries of the heart (coronary arteries)
  • Aortic aneurysms—weakened areas of the aorta at risk for rupture.
  • Scarring of the heart muscle after a heart attack

What does a cardiac MRI monitor?

The test may be used to monitor changes in the heart due to:

  • Certain types of heart disease, such as heart failure
  • Congenital heart disease, an abnormality or condition that has existed since birth
  • Previous cardiac surgeries, such as heart transplant
  • Treatments for non-cardiac diseases, such as chemotherapy

What to expect during a cardiac MRI

During the MRI, you will lie on a table that will pass through a large circular device that covers a very strong magnet. The radiology technician or nurse will record the images and provide them to your radiologist who will interpret the findings to help provide diagnosis and treatment recommendations.

Common conditions that could require a cardiac MRI

  • Coronary heart disease
  • Heart valve defects
  • Inflammation of the membrane around the heart (pericarditis)
  • Cardiac tumors
  • Damage from a heart attack

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