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Toxic Metal Found in Brain Tissue of MRI Patients, Significance Unknown

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Three recent studies have found gadolinium in the brain tissue of those undergoing multiple MRIs during their lifetime, and two prominent radiology experts are calling for more research into the potential health risks.

What is Gadolinium?

Gadolinium is a rare earth metal that is ordinarily found in the environment, but not necessarily in brain tissue. Gadolinium-based contrast agents (GBCAs) were approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1988 and are now the most commonly used MRI contrast agents.

When injected into the body, gadolinium makes certain tissues, abnormalities, or disease processes more clearly visible on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. Gadolinium is used in as many as 30 percent of all MRI scans performed to improve the clarity of scanned images and the overall diagnostic accuracy of the MRI scan.

Patients are typically advised before they have an MRI that gadolinium will be injected part way through the scan to make the image clearer, and a technologist, nurse, or radiologist will perform the injection.

Although gadolinium has been considered to be generally safe, some side effects from gadolinium may be experienced, such as:

  • Brief headache
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness for a short time following the injection
  • A feeling of coldness at the injection site
  • Allergic reactions including difficulty breathing and swelling of the lips and mouth (extremely rare)

Gadolinium and NSF

Gadolinium should be avoided in patients with reduced kidney function, kidney failure, and those with hepatorenal syndrome. Gadolinium was found to be the cause of a rare but terrible side effect for patients with renal insufficiency who had imaging studies performed with the contrast agent, gadolinium.

In 2006, The FDA issued the first of two Public Health Advisories on Nephrogenic Systemic Fibrosis (NSF), but lawsuits brought by those catastrophically injured by gadolinium noted that the warnings came too late. According to Gadolinium lawsuits, GE Healthcare (and the other manufacturers of the gadolinium contrast dyes) were aware of the public safety risk but took no action to warn the public or healthcare professionals.