The development of the MRI has been a great boost for medicine. This relatively new imaging technique has helped doctors diagnose many medical disorders much earlier. However, because the devices use high magnetic fields, certain patients were not eligible for MRI procedures. Performing MRI procedures on patients with pacemakers, aneurysm clips, surgical staples, mechanical heart valves and implanted defibrillators (ICS) has always been forbidden.
It was thought that the strong magnetic field would loosen the surgical staples, make the pacemaker fire erratically, or that the device would interfere with the examination and pose a serious health risk. These health risks associated with MRI procedures were obtained from the results of animals that underwent serious heating injuries in the presence of a metal device. In addition, there is documented evidence that some patients with pacemakers have also died after MRIs.
Now, a study from Spain revealed that perhaps we were unduly worried. The Spanish study revealed that performing MRIs on individuals who already had pacemakers or implanted defibrillators (which were not designed for use in MRI procedures) appears to be safe. The study was done on 118 patients who suffered no adverse effects from the MRIs. Only a few patients had mild changes in the electrical parameters, but there were no clinical consequences. Dr. Oscar Cano Perez, M.D., from the Hospital Universitari i Politècnic La Fe de Valencia in Spain, credited the good results to a safety protocol that had been established (1).
As far as earlier deaths related to pacemakers, Perez mentioned that in the earlier studies, the patients had older generations of pacemakers. There are now recent studies done on patients with newer generations of pacemakers and implanted defibrillators, which indicated that the MRIs had been completed with no complications.
In the US, the FDA is not convinced. Just recently, the agency approved of a pacemaker specifically designed for safe use in the MRI environment (2). In any case, anyone who wants to perform MRIs in the US on patients with pacemakers or implanted defibrillators should ensure that they have an experienced cardiologist and full resuscitation equipment ready at the site. Otherwise, there will be a lot of explaining to be done to the malpractice lawyers waiting just outside the hospital grounds.
1. Europace: MRI safe for use with implanted devices. http://dieurope.com/articles/e-news/details/article/europace-mri-safe-for-use-with-implanted-devices/index.html
2. New wave of MRI-safe pacemakers set to ship to hospitals http://www.scientificamerican.com/blog/post.cfm?id=the-new-wave-of-mri-safe-heart-devi-2011-02-16
Reviewed August 3, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Kate Kunkel