Magnetic Resonance Angiography (MRA)

Magnetic resonance angiography (MRA) is an imaging test and a type of MRI. It uses MRI to create images of blood vessels throughout your body. It uses both strong magnets and radio waves to form an image that can be viewed on a computer. During MRA, you lie flat inside an MRI scanner. This is a large, tunnel-like tube. Contrast dye may be used. This is done to make your blood vessels easier to see. The test is done by a technologist.

Technician preparing man for MRI scan.

Why MRA is done

MRA may be used to:

  • Check arteries in your neck, chest, belly, kidneys, pelvis, arms, legs, or brain

  • Find damage to your arteries caused by injuries

  • Look for a ballooning of the blood vessel wall (aneurysm), narrowing of the blood vessel (stenosis), or tear in the blood vessel (dissection)

Getting ready for your test

  • Follow any directions you are given for taking medicines or for not eating or drinking before your test.

  • Follow your normal daily routine unless your healthcare provider tells you otherwise. 

  • Most MRI/MRA tests take 30 to 60 minutes. Depending on the type of MRI you are having, the test may take longer. Give yourself extra time to check in.

Tell your healthcare provider if you:

  • Are allergic to X-ray dye (contrast medium), iodine, shellfish, or any medicines

  • Are breastfeeding

  • Are pregnant or think you may be pregnant

  • Have any serious health problems, such as kidney disease or a liver transplant. You may not be able to have the dye used for MRA.

  • Tend to be afraid of small, enclosed spaces (claustrophobic) 

Special concerns

MRI uses strong magnets. Metal is affected by magnets and can distort the image. The magnet used in MRI can cause metal objects in your body to move. If you have a metal implant, you may not be able to have an MRI unless the implant is certified as MRI safe.

People with these implants should not have an MRI:

  • Certain clips used for brain aneurysms

  • Certain metal coils put in blood vessels

  • Certain ear (cochlear) implants

  • Some defibrillators

  • Some pacemakers

Tell your healthcare provider if you:

  • Have a bullet or other metal in your body

  • Have a pacemaker, surgical clips, metal plate or pins, an artificial joint, staples or screws, cochlear implants, or other implants

  • Have braces. You must remove any dental work.

  • Have had any past surgeries

  • Have implanted nerve stimulators or medicine-infusion ports

  • Have metal splinters in your body

  • Have tattoos or body piercings. Some tattoo inks contain metal.

  • Wear a medicated adhesive patch

  • Wear makeup, since it may contain some metal

  • Work with metal

What to tell the technician

Tell your healthcare provider and the technician if you:

  • Have ever had an imaging test, such as MRA, MRI, or CT with contrast dye
  • Are allergic to contrast dye, iodine, shellfish, or any medicines
  • Have a serious health problem, such as diabetes or kidney disease, or had a liver transplant
  • Are pregnant or may be pregnant, or are breastfeeding

 During your test

  • You’ll be asked to remove your watch, jewelry, hearing aids, credit cards, pens, pocketknives, eyeglasses, and other metal objects.

  • You may change into a hospital gown. An IV (intravenous) line may be started in your hand or arm.

  • You will lie down on a platform that slides into the MRI machine.

  • At times, the magnet may be within a few inches of your face. It's normal for the MRI machine to make loud knocking noises during some parts of the exam.

  • Several studies may be done. Contrast dye may be injected into your vein through an IV line for some of the studies.

After your test

  • If you were injected with dye, drink plenty of fluids. This will help flush the dye from your body.

  • The radiologist will analyze the results and provide a report to your primary healthcare provider (the person who referred you for the test). Your healthcare provider will discuss the results with you when they are ready.

What is magnetic resonance angiography (MRA)?

You’ve probably heard about the test called MRI. An MRI uses radio waves, a magnetic field, and a computer to create a scan of your body to look for health problems.

Magnetic resonance angiography (MRA) is a type of MRI. It looks just at the body’s blood vessels. A regular angiogram requires inserting a thin tube (catheter) into your body. MRA is a less invasive and less painful test.

During MRA, you lie flat inside an MRI scanner. This is a large, tunnel-like tube. In some cases, contrast dye may be added to your bloodstream. This is done to make your blood vessels easier to see. The contrast is put into your vein through an IV (intravenous) line.

Why might I need MRA?

If your healthcare provider thinks that you may have a narrowing or blockage of blood vessels somewhere in your body, they may advise MRA. Other conditions that your healthcare provider can look for during this test include:

  • An aneurysm or weakness in the wall of an artery
  • A narrowing of the aorta (aortic stenosis)
  • Bleeding in and along the wall of the aorta (aortic dissection)
  • To find the cause of a stroke
  • Signs of heart disease
  • Narrowing or blockage of the vessels in the arms or legs
  • Renal (kidney) artery stenosis, a narrowing of the blood vessels in the kidneys that can lead to high blood pressure and even kidney failure

What are the risks of MRA?

If a dye is needed to make the blood vessels easier to see during the test, you may have a bit of minor discomfort because of the insertion of the IV line.

You might also have some anxiety when placed inside the MRI scanner. This is a small, narrow space. If you think you might be claustrophobic, be sure to tell your healthcare provider before the scan. You may be given a mild sedative to make it easier to be in the MRI scanner.

Some risks of MRA include:

  • You may be injured if you have metal objects in pockets or clothing or metal implants (such as a pacemaker or bullet fragment) in your body. Before you have the test, you will be asked a series of detailed questions about any metal you may have in your body.  
  • If you have a problem with your kidneys, you are at risk of a severe reaction from the MRA contrast dye. This reaction can affect your skin, joints, liver, and lungs. If you have a history of kidney disease, your healthcare provider may decide that an MRA using contrast is not safe for you. But an MRA without injected contrast won't harm your kidneys, even if you have kidney disease.

Pregnant women may have additional risks in the MRI scanner. Make sure to tell your healthcare provider if you are or might be pregnant.

You may be at risk for other complications. This depends on your specific medical condition. Be sure to discuss any concerns with your healthcare provider before the test.


Things to tell the healthcare provider

Tell your healthcare provider or the technician doing your test if you:

  • Have ever had an imaging test (MRA, MRI, or CT) with contrast dye
  • Are allergic to contrast dye, iodine, shellfish, or any medicines
  • Have a serious health problem, such as diabetes or kidney disease
  • Are pregnant, may be pregnant, or are breastfeeding
  • Have any implanted device or metal clips or pins in your body

How do I get ready for MRA?

Before your test:

  • Remove your watch and any jewelry, coins, and other metal objects from your clothes and body. Don't forget to remove earrings, ankle bracelets, and other jewelry. This includes pierced jewelry.
  • Tell your healthcare provider if you have any metal screws, surgical staples, bullet fragments, or other metal in your body. This includes a heart pacemaker, intrauterine device, implanted neurostimulator, or insulin or chemotherapy port.
  • You may want to ask for a blanket or a pillow to be more comfortable on the MRI scanner table.
  • Ear plugs can be helpful. The machine can be loud as it does the scan.

What happens during MRA?

MRA may be done on an outpatient basis or during a hospital stay. Generally, it follows this process:

  1. You will remove any clothing, jewelry, or other objects that may interfere with the scan and put on a gown.
  2. If you need a contrast dye to make blood vessels easier to see, this will be given through an IV line.
  3. You will be positioned on an exam table directly outside the MRI scanner.
  4. The table will slide into position, placing you inside the MRI scanner.
  5. You will need to lie still during the scanning process. Any movements can blur the images and cause the results to be less accurate.
  6. The MRI scanner typically makes a lot of noise, including loud humming noises, so don’t be alarmed.
  7. The full scan may take an hour or longer. This will depend on the type and number of blood vessels that your healthcare provider wishes to examine.

The scan typically causes no side effects or complications. If it's done on an outpatient basis, you are generally free to leave after the scan. Your healthcare provider will likely schedule a follow-up appointment to review the results of the test.

What happens after MRA?

Your healthcare provider will examine the images from the MRA. If no blockages or problems are found, you have a normal test result. An abnormal result means that the healthcare provider noted a problem in 1 or more of the blood vessels in your body. This may mean that you have hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) or another blood vessel problem. Your healthcare provider will likely advise other tests or treatments based on the results of the MRA.

Next steps

Before you agree to the test or procedure make sure you know:

  • The name of the test or procedure
  • The reason you are having the test or procedure
  • What results to expect and what they mean
  • The risks and benefits of the test or procedure
  • What the possible side effects or complications are
  • When and where you are to have the test or procedure
  • Who will do the test or procedure and what that person’s qualifications are
  • What would happen if you did not have the test or procedure
  • Any alternative tests or procedures to think about
  • When and how you will get the results
  • Who to call after the test or procedure if you have questions or problems
  • How much you will have to pay for the test or procedure

Saint Luke's Cardiovascular Consultants

A leader in cardiac care, Saint Luke’s Cardiovascular Consultants treats patients throughout the Kansas City area and surrounding communities. Our medical team consists of both board-certified clinical cardiologists as well as physicians certified in specialty areas of cardiology including interventional cardiology, echocardiography, nuclear cardiology, preventive cardiology, and electrophysiology.