Currently, millions of Americans have implantable medical devices such as pacemakers. Those implanted devices make getting an MRI a problem. Every year, more than 60 million MRIs are performed to diagnose a variety of conditions, including cancer, heart conditions, Alzheimers Disease, and back pain. Sometimes, the procedure causes a fatal complication in patients with implanted medical devices.
The risk of MRIs with implanted devices is well known by most doctors, but many patients and caregivers are unaware of the problem. Anyone with metal in their body is susceptible to the danger of an MRI because the MRI’s powerful magnet can superheat the metal causing it to burn attached tissue. It can also disrupt the signal of a pacemaker, leading to life-threatening heart arrhythmias. Other devices that can pose an MRI risk include insulin pumps, stents, cochlear implants and neurotransmitters. Because orthopedic implants, like pins holding bones together, don’t attach to soft tissue, they are generally not a problem for MRIs. However, they should still be mentioned prior to undergoing the procedure.
Most doctors won’t take the risk of having an MRI done on a patient with an implanted medical device. Sometimes, there is an alternative to the MRI, but sometimes there is not. One doctor is developing an MRI-compatible pacemaker that is awaiting federal regulatory approval.