A heart MRI is a painless, safe and noninvasive way for your healthcare provider to see detailed pictures of your heart. Cardiac MRI images show the parts of your heart and any damage to specific areas. A heart MRI also shows how well your heart’s chambers and valves are working, for example, and how well your blood is moving.
A heart MRI is a scan of your heart in which radio waves and magnets create images without anything you can see or feel going into your body. A cardiac MRI can show the parts of your heart (including chambers, valves and muscles) and how well they are working ― including how your blood moves. These detailed, high-quality images in two or three dimensions help your healthcare provider figure out what’s wrong and make a diagnosis.
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Your provider orders a cardiac MRI when they’re trying to diagnose a problem with your heart, such as:
A heart MRI is performed to obtain a comprehensive analysis of heart structure, function and diseases. In addition to diagnostic reasons above, there are other times you may need a heart MRI, including when your provider needs to:
A healthcare provider working at a hospital or outpatient facility operates the MRI machine and saves the images it takes. After they help you get ready for your scan, they go to a separate part of the room that’s behind glass they can look through to see you.
Unlike some other forms of imaging, a cardiac MRI doesn’t use any radiation. It uses a massive magnet and radio waves to create high-quality images of your heart on a computer.
A heart MRI won’t harm you, but your healthcare provider may ask if you’re pregnant or if you have any metal inside your body. In some cases, an MRI may not be right for you. Some medical devices don’t work right or can interfere while you’re inside an MRI. Be prepared to tell your provider what kind of device you have, since certain types (like an intrauterine device or some pacemakers) aren’t safe in the MRI machine. Your healthcare provider can check their database to see which devices are safe and compatible with having an MRI.
Your provider will also ask about any allergies you have, as well as health problems and surgeries in your history.
If you get nervous or uncomfortable in tight spaces, ask your provider a few days in advance for a pill that will relax you before your cardiac MRI. You can usually pick it up at the pharmacy and take it a half hour before your MRI. Just remember that you’ll need someone to drive you to and from your cardiac MRI if you take a sedative to relax.
You can place your clothing, jewelry and other items in a patient locker. Since you can’t take the locker key inside the MRI, your provider can put it in a safe place for you.
Sometimes, your provider may want to give you a contrast substance such as gadolinium, which can make it easier to see some details in your scans. This is different from the contrast used for other imaging like CTs. You’ll get this through an IV in your arm.
You’ll need to lie down on a long platform that will slide into the empty space in the middle of the MRI machine, which is shaped like a large doughnut standing on its side. Some MRI machines (open MRI) don’t make a complete circle around you, which can be easier for people who need or want more space around them.
Your provider may put stickers with electrocardiogram leads on your chest and a belt below your chest to collect information about your heartbeats and breathing during your cardiac MRI scan.
Your scans should take a half hour to an hour and a half. The machine may do several scans, with each one lasting a few minutes. Sometimes, your provider will ask you to hold your breath for part of the scan.
You’ll need to lie on your back without moving during scans. The machine is loud and may sound like an electronic video game or something pounding around you, but you’ll be able to communicate (through a microphone and headphones or intercom) with the person operating the machine. They may put a call button in your hand that you can squeeze if you need to contact the person doing the scan. You may be able to listen to music through the headphones they put on you.
Your provider will slide the table you’re on out of the MRI machine. If you had an IV, they’ll remove it. Then you can get your belongings, get back into your clothes and go home.
If you took a sedative to relax, you may feel tired until the effects of the pill wear off. If not, you can return to your normal activities.
If you received contrast through an IV, you might have a metal-type taste for a little while or some bruising or irritation where the IV was put in. Rarely, people may have nausea or a headache from the contrast they got in their IV.
The healthcare provider who reviews the scans (usually a radiologist or cardiologist who specializes in interpreting images) will send them to the provider who ordered your cardiac MRI. Your provider may show you images at your next appointment while explaining your diagnosis.
It may take a couple of days for you to get your results.
If you’re having symptoms of a heart problem, call your provider right away.
If you’ve had a cardiac MRI and haven’t heard from your healthcare provider in a few days, it’s a good idea to follow up on your results.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Your healthcare provider may order a heart MRI for you so they can get a comprehensive, accurate look at your heart without doing surgery. This is a safe test with no radiation, but it’s important to lie still during your cardiac MRI scan and follow the breathing instructions. Moving makes the images blurry. Although the person operating the heart MRI machine will be across the room and behind glass, they will be able to see you and communicate with you during the entire test.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/21/2021.
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