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Gadolinium (Dotarem®) contrast injection – Patient Information

This page contains information on gadolinium (also known by its brand name Dotarem®) which is a contrast (dye) used during MRI scans.  Further information about gadolinium is available in the manufacturer’s patient information leaflet – please ask us if you would like a copy.

What is gadolinium?

Gadolinium (Dotarem®) is a clear, colourless liquid that is used to make the images clearer during an MRI scan and help with diagnosis. A radiologist (a specialist doctor trained in studying scans and X-rays)  will decide if you need gadolinium and a radiographer will discuss this with you when you come for your scan.  You can also call and speak to a radiographer before your scan on 0207 464 4317.

How is it given?

Gadolinium is injected into one of your veins via a needle or a cannula (a soft, thin plastic tube) during your scan. The cannula is inserted through your skin into a vein using a needle. Once the cannula is in place the needle is removed, leaving the small, thin plastic tube in the blood vessel. This should be comfortable and will only be in place until your scan is finished.

Are there any side effects?

Gadolinium is not suitable for everybody. The radiographer or radiologist will decide if it is appropriate for you.

In people who have severely reduced kidney function or hepatorenal syndrome (a condition involving reduced function of the liver and kidneys), gadolinium should only be used with radiologist approval. This group of patients cannot excrete gadolinium through urine and the retained gadolinium may cause problems.

It is important that you tell the radiographer before your scan if you have any history of kidney problems.  Under the Royal College of Radiologist guidelines, patients 65 or over will have your kidney function tested on the day, unless you do not consent to it begin done.

Please also let us know if you have had a previous allergic reaction to a contrast agent.

Gadolinium may cause side effects in some people but these are usually mild and short lasting. Some of the more common side effects include:

  • injection site pain
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • itching
  • rash
  • headache
  • parasthesia (abnormal skin sensation, such as prickling, burning or tingling).

If you have any concerns about side effects, please speak to the staff caring for you.

Occasionally the injection may leak out from the vein to the tissues under the skin – this is known as extravasation. If this happens, you will experience a stinging sensation where the contrast has gone into the tissue and it can be painful. If you would like more information about this please ask a member of staff for our leaflet, Contrast injection leak guidance (extravasation).

Allergic reactions to gadolinium contrast agents are very uncommon but do occur. Most occur during the injection or within the first hour following administration; however some can occur up to several days later. If a reaction was to occur during your scan the hospital has the team and the medicine to help with this.

Serious allergic reactions are rare, however please seek immediate medical attention if you have any of the following having left the hospital:

  • swelling of the face, mouth, hands, feet or throat
  • difficulty in breathing or swallowing
  • fainting
  • coughing/wheezing/sneezing
  • eye irritation
  • rash/hives/itchy red skin

If a reaction was to occur after you have left the hospital we would advise you to attend an A+E department.

Contact us

If you have any questions or concerns, or if you experience any of the symptoms listed above, please contact your GP or go to your local Emergency Department (A&E) for advice for urgent queries or the MRI department for non-urgent queries on 0207 467 4317

If you have any questions or concerns about your medicines, please speak to the staff caring for you.

Your comments and concerns

For support or advice please speak to your consultant or the imaging department on 0207 467 4317

Language and accessible support services

If you need an interpreter or information about your care in a different language or format, please get in touch.