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MRI Contrast Agent Side Effects Can Be Debilitating

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Glasgow, UKOne woman's ordeal with MRI contrast side effects may have changed how UK doctors use gadolinium-based contrast agents. The woman, who is now confined to a wheelchair, has filed a lawsuit against the maker of the agent.

Margaret Roxburgh, a 54-year-old grandmother in the UK, was given Omniscan prior to a routine magnetic resonance angiogram (MRA) scan, according to the Sunday Mail on 1/31/10. MRA scans, like magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, provide images of the blood vessels inside the body.

Within 24 hours of the injection, Roxburgh suffered hot pains and her legs swelled to twice their normal size. Her hair fell out a few days after the procedure, and she was diagnosed with Nephrogenic Systemic Fibrosis (NSF). Roxburgh now uses a wheelchair and has been told that she may die from her condition.

She has filed a lawsuit against GE Healthcare Ltd. and GE Healthcare UK Ltd., both subsidiaries of General Electric.

Doctors in the UK have since been told not to give the contrast agent to anyone with severe kidney problems.

Adverse reactions to contrast agent are rare but serious, says study

The February edition of the American Journal of Roentgenology published a study of the risks of serious adverse reactions to gadolinium-based MRI contrast agents. The study examined data from quality assurance records on the number of administrations of and acute adverse reactions to the contrast agents in patients who underwent MRIs. Researchers looked at approximately 32,600 instances of gadolinium exposure, of which 51 caused acute adverse reactions in 50 patients. Forty-three of those were mild, six were moderate and two were severe.

Researchers noted that severe adverse reactions are rare, but that radiologists and patients should be aware of the risk of using gadolinium-based contrast agents. So far, researchers believe the risk of developing NSF is highest in patients who suffer from decreased kidney function.

NSF is a potentially fatal condition marked by hardening of the skin around the patient's joints. Movement is often so painful that the patient becomes confined to a wheelchair. NSF can also cause the skin around the internal organs to harden, limiting their ability to carry out their functions.

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