A pacemaker or defibrillator is a small device implanted under the skin to control a person’s heartbeat and prevent sudden cardiac death. MRIs contain a strong magnet that can cause these devices to overheat or malfunction.
Doctors at the Methodist DeBakey Heart & Vascular Center in Houston are employing a specific protocol to reprogram pacemakers and defibrillators, giving patients the option to receive an MRI for brain or orthopedic injury.
“MRI activity can cause the pacemaker to become confused into thinking the patient’s heart is beating properly when it may not be,” said cardiologist Dr. Dipan Shah. “Reprogramming the device to get around this problem is crucial to allowing patients to receive these scans.”
Shah says the device is appropriately programmed before the MRI and doctors closely monitor the patient’s heart rate, oxygen levels and blood pressure during the scan. Once completed, the device is programmed back to its normal levels.
MRIs give physicians a clearer picture of organs and structures inside the body. It uncovers problems such as tumors, blood vessel disease and infections. It’s used on everything from the bone and joints to the head and heart.
“MRI is only performed if the benefits of the test outweigh the potential risks to the patient,” Shah said. “That being said, it’s comforting to know that MRI is now an option for them if they need it to potentially save their life.”
The Heart Center is part of a multi-center study looking at the long-term effects of MRI on these patients.
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