Gadolinium based contrast agents are used in the medical field for MRI and MRA scans. Although these types of scans can produce high quality images of the inside of your body, using a contrast agent can make an even clearer image. Unfortunately, there exist some side effects of gadolinium in the body that have proven to be fatal and incurable.
Gadolinium is used because it has strong magnetic characteristics which are advantageous for test results when using the powerful magnetic fields an MRI machine can produce. Under normal conditions, gadolinium is a very toxic element to the body. Therefore, in order for gadolinium to be of any use, it goes through a process known as chelation to make it safe and harmless when in the bloodstream.
Some of the harmless gadolinium side effects include nausea, headaches and lightheadedness. These are all minor and will go away with some relaxation time after an MRI scan. If the patient has an allergic reaction to the gadolinium, there could be more serious side effects such as skin rashes, hives and the possibility of blood clots.
After being administrated with a gadolinium based contrast agent, the body will excrete the residual through normal processes of the kidneys. However, if the patient has renal disease or failure, the inability to rid the body of the gadolinium can lead to the very fatal disease known as nephrogenic systemic fibrosis, or NSF for short.
NSF is the disease where excess fibrous tissue begins to grow. It can grow on the eyes, skin, joints and organs. As a result, the skin will become hardened and very painful to touch or stretch. Yellow, raised dots can grow on the white parts of the eyes. Joints will stiffen and it will be very difficult to move and bend the arms and legs. NSF can affect the muscles, leading to deep pains in the body and a decrease in overall strength. In advanced cases, fibrosis of the organs will lead to organ failure, and extremely death.
Nephrogenic systemic fibrosis is a reliably young disease. The first case of NSF was reported in 1997, with the first published study following in 2000. The link between contrast agents and NSF was not made until six years later in 2006. There is still much to be learned about this disease. Unfortunately, there is still no known cure it either. If you suffer from kidney problems and are planned to undergo an MRI scan, it is crucial that the doctor knows this before administering a contrast dye in you to avoid any side effects of gadolinium based agents.