Cardiac MRI

Cardiac MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging, is an imaging method that uses powerful magnets and radio waves to create pictures of the heart.

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Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a safe, noninvasive test that creates detailed pictures of your organs and tissues. “Noninvasive” means that no surgery is done and no instruments are inserted into your body.

MRI uses radio waves, magnets, and a computer to create pictures of your organs and tissues. Unlike other imaging tests, MRI doesn’t use ionizing radiation or carry any risk of causing cancer.

Cardiac MRI creates both still and moving pictures of your heart and major blood vessels. Doctors use cardiac MRI to get pictures of the beating heart and to look at its structure and function. These pictures can help them decide the best way to treat people who have heart problems.

Cardiac MRI is a common test.


  • Coronary heart disease
  • Damage caused by a heart attack
  • Heart failure
  • Heart valve problems
  • Congenital heart defects (heart defects present at birth)
  • Pericarditis (a condition in which the membrane, or sac, around your heart is inflamed)
  • Cardiac tumors

Cardiac MRI can help explain results from other tests, such as x rays and computed tomography scans (also called CT scans).

Doctors sometimes use cardiac MRI instead of invasive procedures or tests that involve radiation (such as x rays) or dyes containing iodine (these dyes may be harmful to people who have kidney problems).


Risk Factors

The magnetic fields and radio waves used in cardiac MRI have no side effects. This method of taking pictures of organs and tissues doesn’t carry a risk of causing cancer or birth defects.

Serious reactions to the contrast agent used during some MRI tests are very rare.


  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Changes in taste
  • Allergic reactions

Rarely, the contrast agent can harm people who have severe kidney or liver disease. The substance may cause a disease called nephrogenic systemic fibrosis.

If your cardiac MRI includes a stress test, more medicines will be used during the test. These medicines may have other side effects that aren’t expected during a regular MRI scan, such as:

  • Arrhythmias, or irregular heartbeats
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Palpitations (feelings that your heart is skipping a beat, fluttering, or beating too hard or fast)



The doctor supervising your scan will provide your doctor with the results of your cardiac MRI. Your doctor will discuss the findings with you.


  • Coronary heart disease
  • Damage caused by a heart attack
  • Heart failure
  • Heart valve problems
  • Congenital heart defects
  • Pericarditis (a condition in which the membrane, or sac, around your heart is inflamed)
  • Cardiac tumors

Cardiac MRI is a fast, accurate tool that can help diagnose a heart attack. The test does this by detecting areas of the heart that don’t move normally, have poor blood supply, or are scarred.

Cardiac MRI also can show whether any of the coronary arteries are blocked. A blockage prevents your heart muscle from getting enough oxygen-rich blood, which can lead to a heart attack.

Currently, coronary angiography is the most common procedure for looking at blockages in the coronary arteries. Coronary angiography is an invasive procedure that uses x rays and iodine-based dye.

Researchers have found that cardiac MRI can sometimes replace coronary angiography, avoiding the need to use x-ray radiation and iodine-based dye.

Echocardiography (echo) is the main test for diagnosing heart valve disease. However, your doctor also might recommend cardiac MRI to assess the severity of valve disease.

A cardiac MRI can confirm information about valve defects or provide more detailed information about heart valve disease.

This information can help your doctor plan your treatment. An MRI also might be done before heart valve surgery to help your surgeon plan for the surgery.



You’ll be able to return to your normal routine once the cardiac MRI is done.

If you took medicine to help you relax during the test, your doctor will tell you when you can return to your normal routine. The medicine will make you sleepy, so you’ll need someone to drive you home.


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