What is MRA?

Magnetic resonance angiography (MRA) is a special type of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test designed to evaluate arteries, veins and the flowing blood within them. MRI uses radiofrequency waves within a strong magnetic field to generate detailed images of internal organs and tissues. No x-ray or radiation of any kind is used during an MRI or MRA exam.

MRA is performed without need for catheters. This is beneficial because detailed images of blood vessels and blood flow are obtained without having to insert a catheter into the area of interest, so that there is no risk of damaging an artery. In some cases an MRI dye (gadolinium) is used to produce an even clearer image and detailed picture. The gadolinium is injected into a vein in the arm helping highlight the blood vessels, making them stand out better from surrounding tissue.

Why Would My Clinician Order an MRA vs. an MRI?

One of the most common reasons an MRA is ordered is to test for any narrowing or plaque buildup in the arteries that could lead to a harmful medical condition. It utilizes MRI technology to detect, diagnose and aid in the treatment of heart disorders, strokes and blood vessel diseases. By conducting an MRA, surgical procedures may be avoided.

MRA is performed on the arteries of the neck and brain to test for any narrowing or plaque buildup that could lead to a stroke, or for any weakening or ballooning of the arteries (aneurysms) that could lead to bleeding around the brain. MRA is also performed on the arteries to the kidneys to test for narrowing that could lead to high blood pressure or kidney failure. Furthermore, it’s also performed on the pelvis and legs to look for narrowing that could lead to painful walk, to evaluate non-healing ulcers or to look for blood clots in the veins.

What to Expect

This procedure is non-invasive and there is no pain associated with this exam. Some common distractions or discomforts include the loud tapping noises that are often made by the MRI machine or the close proximity to the MRI machine. For patients who are claustrophobic or who become uncomfortable in these situations may be prescribed a mild sedative to be taken before the exam.  You also may notice a warm feeling in the area being studied. This is normal but you should not be afraid to communicate with the technologist if it bothers you. A technologist will always be available, monitoring you throughout the exam if any concerns arise.