Do you need an MRA scan? Here’s what you should know about the procedure.

What Is an MRA (MR Angiography) Scan?

Magnetic resonance angiogram (MRA) scans provide incredibly detailed images of the body’s blood vessels — MRAs are a form of MRIs.

Using magnetic field and radio wave energy pulses, the MRA provides information that x-rays, CT scans or ultrasounds can’t always obtain. MRA exams are most often used on your neck, legs, kidneys and brain to gather information about the condition of the blood vessel walls and blood flow. They also can be used to search for aneurysms, calcium deposits and clots within the blood vessels. Sometimes, a contrast dye is used to provide better definition of the blood vessels in the scan’s images.

mra scan

Reasons You Might Need an MRA

MRAs are used to diagnose a number of different arterial conditions and circulatory problems. Your doctor uses MRA imaging to examine the blood vessels in key areas of your body, including your:

  • Brain
  • Heart
  • Neck
  • Chest
  • Arms and hands
  • Legs and feet
  • Abdomen, including the liver and kidneys
  • Pelvis

MRA is useful as a substitute for CT angiography when iodinated contrast material cannot be used. There are a wide variety of reasons why your doctor may feel that MR angiography is the best imaging technique for you, such as:

  • Screening patients for arterial disease
  • Examining any obstruction of the blood vessels
  • Identifying abnormalities like aneurysms in the aorta, brain or other arteries
  • Detecting plaque disease
  • Visualizing blood flow in the arteries
  • Identifying injury to one or more arteries after a trauma
  • Evaluating arteries feeding a tumor
  • Showing the extent and severity of arterial disease and making a plan for intervention
  • Looking for congenital abnormalities in blood vessels

What to Expect During an MRA Scan

When you get an MRA scan, you’ll place only the area of the body being studied inside the MRI machine. You will be asked to lie on the bed, which slides into the large cylindrical opening of the machine. It’s important to remain as still as possible throughout the procedure, so you don’t distort the scan’s images. A microphone in the machine allows you to speak with the technologist whenever you need to.

Once the scan begins, you will hear loud banging noises as well as the hum of the MRI machine. This is completely normal. We will provide you with earplugs and/or headphones to block out the noise and allow you to listen to music during the scanning process. You can expect the entire procedure to last anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes, and potentially longer if contrast material is used.

What Happens After an MRA Scan?

Most patients do not require sedation during their MRA procedure, so no recovery period is necessary. You may return to your regular daily activities immediately after your exam. You don’t even have to modify what you eat. If contrast material was used, your technologist will give you instructions, such as drinking plenty of fluids to help your body get rid of the material. It will eventually pass in your urine completely unnoticed as it is colorless.

Very rarely, some patients experience side effects from the contrast material, such as:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Pain at the injection site
  • Allergic reactions like hives or itchy eyes

While allergic reactions are extremely rare, be sure to let your technologist or doctor know if you are experiencing any symptoms.

Once your doctor has examined the images from your MRA scan, they will let you know the results. A normal test result means that no blockages or irregularities were detected. An abnormal result means that your doctor has found an abnormality in one or more of your body’s blood vessels. If the results are inconclusive, suggesting several different conditions, additional testing may be recommended. If the scan points to a clear diagnosis, your doctor will then discuss a treatment plan based on your results.

If you require an MRA scan near you, Health Images can provide high-quality and friendly care to patients living in Denver, Boulder and the surrounding areas.

Benefits of MRA Scans

MRA scans provide many distinct benefits both to patients and the physicians who use the images to diagnose health concerns:

  • Unlike x-rays and CT scans, MRA and MRI scans don’t utilize radiation
  • In many instances, MRA scans detect information that ultrasounds, x-rays and CT scans miss
  • An MRA examination is noninvasive
  • MRA scans can detect problems with blood vessels that cause reduced blood flow

Uses of MRA Scans

An MRA scan is an extremely useful diagnostic tool that’s primary purpose is to find any problems that may exist with your blood vessels. Some of the most common uses for an MRA include:

  • Detection of aneurysms, calcium deposits or clots within blood vessels
  • Discovering blood vessel abnormalities within the brain, such as inflammation or congenital disabilities
  • Finding any existing narrowing within the blood vessels
  • Diagnosis of lesions in arteries that could disrupt blood flow to the brain
  • Evaluation of stroke patients
  • Defining blood supply to vascular tumors in the brain
  • And much more