Magnetic Resonance Angiography (MRA)

What is a magnetic resonance angiography?

A magnetic resonance angiography, also called MR angiography or MRA, is diagnostic imaging technique that uses a magnetic field, radio waves and a computer to create detailed images of blood vessels leaving the heart and entering the brain.

When blood vessels become blocked, it can lead to problems such as chest pain, heart attack and stroke. An MRA can identify which blood vessels are injured and the extent of the damage.

What happens during a MR angiogram?

During test, the patient lies on a table with their arms at their sides. A technician may place special devices to improve image quality, known as coils, on or around the neck. In some cases, the physician may request a special dye, or contrast, be injected into the patient’s bloodstream to improve image quality.

The scanning table slides into a hollow, donut-shaped machine. A computer attached to the machine processes radio waves and magnetic fields to create two-dimensional or three-dimensional images of the brain’s blood vessels.

How long will the test take?

A MR angiogram lasts between 30 and 90 minutes. Patients undergoing the test on an outpatient basis should anticipate being at Cedars-Sinai for at least two hours.

Does the test cause any discomfort?

Magnetic fields and radio waves are painless. The only discomfort may come from lying still on the hard table in an enclosed area. If the patient is claustrophobic, an open MR angiogram can be substituted, or the patient might receive a medication to help them remain calm during the test.

The patient will hear sounds such as humming, thumping, clicking and knocking. Cedars-Sinai provides earplugs to help mask the sound, and does allow patients to listen to soft music during the scan.

Some patients experience nausea, flushing and headache when contrast is used.

What preparation is needed before an MR angiogram?

MR angiography is a safe test that is relatively easy to perform. Patients with pacemakers or certain metal implants cannot have an MR angiogram, and women who are or may be pregnant also should avoid the test. Patients should alert their medical team if any of these conditions are present.

If the test is being done on an outpatient basis, the patient will be asked to not eat anything for four to six hours beforehand. Patients should leave any jewelry or metal objects at home.

What happens after the test is complete?

For patients who are not currently admitted to the hospital, there are no restrictions following the exam and they may go home immediately. An imaging physician will examine the pictures and submit a written report to the patient’s neurologist. The neurologist will contact the patient with results.

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