MRI scans now safe for patients with pacemakers

September 5, 2012 4:56:36 PM PDT
For years, people with pacemakers have been told to avoid getting MRI scans. But now, if you have a pacemaker and you need an MRI, you'll be able to get one in Houston. A hospital here is one of the few in the nation that's learned to reprogram the devices to make it safe.

"I heard these horns honking, and I looked around, they're honking at me; I had fallen asleep in the intersection," heart patient Morgan Davis said.

Doctors thought Davis may have had a stroke. He was told he needed an MRI but couldn't have one because of his defibrillator.

"They said they could run an X-ray but couldn't do an MRI and that's when I got nervous about it, because if they can't do that they're missing some stuff," she said.

The MRI has a strong magnet that can cause the metal in pacemakers and defibrillators to overheat.

"They can absorb energy from the MRI scanner," said Dr. Dipan Shah, a cardiologist, at Methodist DeBakey Heart and Vascular Center.

But here he is getting an MRI, defibrillator and all. How is that possible?

"We can't change the metal but we can change the way that we do the MRI scan itself," Dr. Shah said.

At Methodist, they're able to reprogram pacemakers and defibrillators so they can go safely into an MRI.

Using these new MRI settings, they've been able to scan about 100 people who have pacemakers and defibrillators. And with those scans, they've saved about a dozen of them from having unnecessary heart surgery and unnecessary brain biopsies.

"For him, we'll definitely know whether he had a stroke or not," Dr. Shah said.

And Davis can get the right treatment, not an educated guess.

"It's very comforting to have it done," Davis said.

After the scan, his defibrillator was reset to normal. And he is relieved, knowing that one life-saving device will no longer prevent him from using another.

"I thought it was fantastic. I mean the very fact they could do it was unbelievable," Davis said.

Methodist Hospital is a part of a multi-center study learning how to safely perform MRI scans on people with pacemakers and defibrillators.


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