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What Is a Spine MRI with Contrast?

A spine MRI with contrast is a detailed imaging test that uses magnetic fields and contrast dye to visualize spinal structures with exceptional clarity. This enhanced scan can reveal issues like herniated discs, tumors, or infections that standard MRIs might miss. Intrigued by how this technology could illuminate the mysteries of back pain? Discover the vivid world beneath your skin with us.
Jacquelyn Gilchrist
Jacquelyn Gilchrist

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.

Sections of the spine.
Sections of the spine.

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.

An MRI machine.
An MRI machine.

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.

A spine MRI with contrast is used to produce detailed images of the spine.
A spine MRI with contrast is used to produce detailed images of the spine.

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.

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Discussion Comments


Go there tired and avoid meds before an MRI with contrast. Hopefully, you can get a little bit of rest. Listen to the directions from the tech.

Today I was on the table for close to two hours, and was extremely uncomfortable, but it was also extremely important not to move during the MRI, Breathe, yes. My neck, cervical, back thoracic, low back lumbar, all had MRI with contrast. The pictures are much better with contrast, So yes, stick to it.

There is a lot of resistance to doing the procedure with contrast. My opinion is it costs more money, but is worth it. -- LFW III


@burcidi-- Unless you're allergic to gadolinium, you will be fine.

I think if you are allergic, there is another contrast agent that they can use instead. My brother had to have a spine MRI with contrast, but they had to use a different one because he is allergic to gadolinium. They always do an allergy test first though, so don't worry.


@burcidi-- I had one several years back. It was a fairly straightforward and simple procedure. My doctor injected the dye, I waited for a while for the dye to enter circulation and then had the MRI.

I went home right away afterward. I didn't have any issues except for some fatigue and a headache for the rest of the day.

Just follow your doctor's and technician's directions and you will be fine. Make sure that you mention all drugs that you are currently taking. Some medications can negatively interact with the dye. The dye can put stress on the kidneys as well. So you might have to stop taking your medications for a few days before the procedure.


I will be having an MRI with contrast in two weeks. I've never had an MRI before and I'm a little worried because contrast will be used.

Has anyone here had an MRI with contrast? How was it?

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    • Sections of the spine.
      By: Alexandr Mitiuc
      Sections of the spine.
    • An MRI machine.
      By: Hakan Kızıltan
      An MRI machine.
    • A spine MRI with contrast is used to produce detailed images of the spine.
      By: photoBeard
      A spine MRI with contrast is used to produce detailed images of the spine.
    • The diagnosis of a herniated disc and many other spinal issues are most commonly confirmed using an MRI.
      By: EPSTOCK
      The diagnosis of a herniated disc and many other spinal issues are most commonly confirmed using an MRI.