A cardiac MRI is a safe, noninvasive test that shows images of the heart and blood vessels from any angle. A cardiac MRI is a powerful tool used to detect scars in your heart caused by coronary artery disease. Along with cardiac stress tests (exercise stress test, echo stress test, nuclear stress test), the cardiac MRI helps to provide information to your physician regarding coronary artery disease or blockages. It also can discover congenital heart defects and indicate the presence of tumors or other abnormalities of the heart and its surrounding structures.

What to expect during a cardiac MRI

Preparing for your procedure

Avoid caffeinated foods and drinks, as well as smoking for at least 12 hours before your test. In addition, do not eat or drink anything, other than small sips of water for daily medication, for three hours before your test. Your physician may provide you with oral medication to take prior to your cardiac MRI to help you relax, especially if anxiety or claustrophobia are issues.

You will be asked to remove all metal objects from your pockets and body, including jewelry, coins, keys, hearing aids, cell phone and watch. Notify the technician immediately if you could be pregnant, if you have a cardiac pacemaker or defibrillator, any type of implanted device, metal shrapnel or fragments inside your body, or if you are claustrophobic or become anxious in confined spaces.

Once the technologist is ready to begin, a contrast IV will be started in your arm to provide a clearer MRI picture.

During your procedure

Follow the technologist’s instructions closely and make sure to hold completely still. Your cardiac MRI should last between 1 and 1-1/2 hours, so please be patient.

You will be placed on a table that rolls into a large, tube-shaped machine. Your entire body will be inside of the tube for the entirety of the test. The technologist will communicate with you during the test and give you instructions on holding your breath or holding a certain position. It is essential that you stay as still as possible during the test so the pictures are clear. The machine also makes a lot of loud knocking noises during the test—this is completely normal. You will have headphones to aid with communication with the technologists and you can opt to have music during the study.

After your procedure

If you received a sedative to help you relax during the test, you need to have an adult present to take you home. Drink plenty of non-caffeinated liquids after the test to flush the contrast medicine out of your body. Once you are free to go, you can resume normal daily activities. A report of the test will be sent to your physician, who will contact you to discuss your results. If you feel something is not right after your test, please call your physician right away.

What is an MRI?

In this video, our imaging technologist explains an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), what it's used for and what you can expect during this type of imaging exam.

What is a cardiac MRI?

Karolina Zareba, MD, a cardiologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, describes a cardiac MRI test and what you can expect as this test is performed.