Cardiac MRI

Cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (cardiac MRI or CMR) is a valuable tool that produces detailed images of the beating heart. This completely noninvasive test helps doctors study the structure and function of heart muscle, which can lead to uncovering the cause of a patient's heart failure or in identifying the specific location of tissue damage due to a heart attack. Cardiologists consider cardiac MRI to be the "gold standard" for evaluating heart function.

Cardiac MRI does not use X-rays or radiation, but rather relies upon a large magnet, radio waves, and a computer to create a series of images of the heart and its surrounding blood vessels.

Cardiac MRI does not use X-rays or radiation, but rather relies upon a large magnet, radio waves, and a computer to create a series of images of the heart and its surrounding blood vessels. View a brief video of a cardiac MRI that shows a beating heart in a patient with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a disease that causes abnormal thickening of the heart muscle.

At the University of Chicago Cardiac Imaging Center, patients have access to the latest MRI technology, including new 1.5 Tesla and 3 Tesla MRI machines. Yet the foremost feature of our cardiac MRI program is the focused expertise of the cardiologists who interpret the MRI results. Our team includes experts with several years of experience in cardiac MRI, and who also bring advanced skills in the interpretation of cardiac CT, echocardiography, nuclear imaging and more. Our cardiac imaging team works together to offer the right test for the right patient at the right time.

When is Cardiac MRI Used?

Physicians recommend cardiac MRI for a variety of reasons, but it is especially useful as a noninvasive method to diagnose heart muscle disease. Some conditions that previously required invasive biopsy tests can now be diagnosed noninvasively with cardiac MRI. Cardiac MRI can show if heart muscle is alive or dead.

Cardiac MRI can be used to detect or diagnose a wide range of cardiovascular problems, including the following:

  • Weakened heart muscle or cardiomyopathy, a cause of heart failure
  • Heart muscle damage caused by a heart attack
  • Aneurysms of the heart that develop due to a heart attack
  • Heart damage caused by inflammatory or infiltrative heart conditions such as cardiac sarcoidosis, amyloidosis, hemochromatosis, myocarditis and pericarditis
  • Diseases of the right ventricle, such as arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia
  • Heart valve disease
  • Congenital heart defects
  • Blockages within the coronary arteries

Cardiac MRI is sometimes used as an alternative to nuclear stress testing. Cardiac MRI stress tests are as accurate as nuclear stress tests, but require no radiation to perform the test. In addition, cardiac MRI is often used to predict how the heart will respond to treatments for coronary artery disease, such as coronary artery bypass surgery or angioplasty.

Some cardiac MRI patients will receive an injection of a contrast medium or dye through a vein before the scan. This dye improves the ability of the MRI machine to capture more detailed images of tissues.

For more information about cardiac MRI and to watch a brief video about what to expect during the test, visit this page on the American College of Cardiology's Web site.

Scheduling and Contact Information

Cardiac MRI testing requires a physician referral. Talk with your doctor about if the test is right for you, or call 1-888-UCH-0200 to schedule an appointment with one of our cardiologists or request an appointment online.

Referring Physicians: To schedule a patient for a cardiac MRI study, please call (773) 795-4808.


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Referring Physicians: To schedule a patient for a cardiac MRI study, please call (773) 795-4808. For questions about cardiac MRI, please contact Amit Patel, MD, at amitpatel@uchicago.edu