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Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) of the Shoulder

Risks

There are no known harmful effects from the strong magnetic field used for MRI. But the magnet is very powerful. The magnet may affect pacemakers, artificial limbs, and other medical devices that contain iron. The magnet will stop a watch that is close to the magnet. Any loose metal object has the risk of causing damage if it gets pulled toward the strong magnet.

Metal parts in the eyes can damage the retina. If you may have metal fragments in the eye, an X-ray of the eyes may be done before the MRI. If metal is found, the MRI will not be done.

Iron pigments in tattoos or tattooed eyeliner can cause skin or eye irritation.

An MRI can cause a burn with some medicine patches. Be sure to tell your doctor if you are wearing a patch.

There is a slight chance of an allergic reaction if contrast material is used during the MRI. But most reactions are mild and can be treated using medicine. Contrast material that contains gadolinium may cause a serious problem (called nephrogenic systemic fibrosis) in people with kidney failure. If you have decreased kidney function or serious kidney disease, tell your doctor before having an MRI scan.

There also is a slight risk of an infection at the IV site if contrast material was used.

Results

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a test done with a large machine that uses a magnetic field and pulses of radio wave energy to make pictures of the shoulder.

The radiologist may discuss preliminary results of the MRI with you right after the test. Complete results are usually available for your doctor in 1 to 2 days.

An MRI scan can sometimes find a problem in a tissue or organ, even when the size and shape of the tissue or organ looks normal.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the shoulder
Normal:

The muscles, tendons, bones, and joints look normal in size, shape, and location.

No growths, such as tumors, are present.

No cartilage problems or tears, broken bones (fractures), or loose bodies are present.

No rotator cuff injury or tear is present.

No signs of inflammation or infection are present.

Abnormal:

A growth, such as a tumor, inflammation, or infection in the bone or joint is present.

A collection of fluid is found, which could mean you have an infection.

Damage to ligaments, tendons, or cartilage is present.

Joint damage is present and bones may show signs of disease or fracture.

What Affects the Test

Reasons you may not be able to have the test or why the results may not be helpful include:

  • Metal devices in your shoulder or chest from previous surgery. These can make the MRI pictures blurry and prevent your doctor from seeing what is wrong with your shoulder.
  • Pregnancy. An MRI test usually is not done during pregnancy.
  • Medical devices that use electronics, such as a pacemaker or medicine infusion pump. The MRI magnet may cause problems with these devices.
  • If you are not able to remain still during the test.
  • Obesity. A person who is very overweight may not fit into the opening of some standard MRI machines.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: November 29, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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