What is the Difference Between MRI and MRA?

Did you know that if you took the blood vessels of an average adult and spread them out, they would be over 100,000 miles long! That is a lot of arteries, vessels, veins and capillaries to look through when a patient comes to us needing vascular imaging. That is why both patient and doctor appreciate the benefits that MRA technology allow.

Because they are so closely related, trying to understand the difference between MRI and MRA procedures can be difficult for the average patient. But when we look closer, there are actually a lot of differences but a lot of similarities as well. So let us begin with, what is an MRA?

MRA or magnetic resonance angiogram is when MRI technology is used to image the blood vessels of the body. Without making a single incision, physicians can see the many miniscule and convoluted pathways of blood through the body clearly. Why is this important? The way blood moves through the body is telling of the body’s current state. Is blood moving too quickly? The patient could have high blood pressure that could lead to a cardiovascular episode. Is the blood moving too slowly? There could be a blockage in the body that if left untreated, could become a coronary thrombosis, or in layman’s terms, a heart attack.

In many cases, other methods of imaging like CT scans and ultrasounds cannot obtain the same kind of information that an MRA can. A MRA is a form of MRI testing, meaning it still uses radio waves along with a rotating magnetic field in order to image the blood vessels of the body. So in many ways, MRI and MRA are similar but MRA is used primarily for the imaging the vascular system. MRIs are used for multiple reasons like imaging the musculoskeletal system and soft tissue examination.

The difference between an MRA and MRI become more clear when we understand what an MRA can see and how it is administered. MRAs examine the blood pathways between the brain, kidneys and legs and often use contrast material to help vessels and potential blockages to be highlighted. Contrast material is not used in every MRI that is performed and MRIs usually have a larger area to examine rather than a single vein or vessel. Contrast material is useful to help highlight problem areas and to help physicians perform other procedures with a clear image of the area. Contrast material assists physicians and technicians when they are searching for the following:

  • Clots, bulges or aneurysms or fatty buildups in the blood vessels leading the brain.
  • Tears or aneurysms in the aorta leading away from the body
  • Stenosis or narrowing of the blood vessels in the body
  • Other anomalies and abnormalities in the blood vessels

MRAs and MRIs do not use radiation in order to make images and they take about the same amount of time, about 30 minutes, depending on the patient’s movements and what is being examined. Be sure to take out all metallic objects in the body and tell your doctor if you think you may be pregnant.

So you can see there are a few differences between an MRI and MRA but they both help patients live healthier lives and help doctors give quality treatment.

If you have more questions about the difference between MRI and MRA, please feel free to check out MRI Service Page for more information. You can also call our office at 504-833-8111 Monday through Friday 8AM to 6 PM to speak with a representative from Doctors Imaging.

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