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A spine MRI with contrast is a magnetic resonance imaging test, which produces images of the spine to facilitate the diagnosis of medical conditions. The contrast material, which is commonly gadolinium, may be swallowed or injected to allow the doctor to more clearly detect potential problems. Unlike x-rays, an MRI produces images using radio frequency pulses and a magnetic field, instead of radiation. A spine MRI with contrast may be performed to prepare for surgeries, diagnose back pain, or evaluate the success of a spine operation.
Before undergoing a spine MRI with contrast, patients must disclose their full medical history. Patients with kidney problems may be unable to use the contrast material. The doctor should also know about any allergies, whether the patient might be pregnant, or whether the patient has any artificial medical devices implanted, particularly those containing metal pieces. Those who have an intrauterine device (IUD) may also be unable to undergo an MRI, as well as those who have recently had surgery.
Patients may be asked to refrain from consuming food or drink for four to six hours prior to the imaging test. First, the patient must remove all metal objects, including jewelry, and wear a hospital gown. The contrast material may be swallowed or injected intravenously, and it may temporarily cause a flushing or cool sensation. The MRI itself will not cause the patient any pain, although those who fear enclosed spaces may experience anxiety, which can be alleviated with a sedative.
Once the patient is ready for the spine MRI with contrast, he will be asked to lie on a table, which is then placed inside the MRI machine. Typically, this test takes 30 to 60 minutes; however, some patients may need to lie still inside the scanner for up to two hours. Patients may talk to the technician during the test, but they must lie as still as possible. The MRI scanner will produce some noise, and patients should be assured that this is normal.
After the spine MRI with contrast, the patient may be asked to remain in the hospital while they recover from the sedative, if one was used. Otherwise, no recovery time is necessary, and patients may return to normal activities. Patients should expect the complete results to be ready in one to two days; however, some results may be available right away. Very rarely, some people may experience an allergic reaction to the contrast material.