Gadolinium is a metal found in nature included in contrast media for MRI scans. It helps doctors to better diagnose inflammation, tumors and blood clots by providing them with clearer, brighter images of inside the body. There are eight brands of gadolinium-based contrast agents (GBCAs) available in the U.S., including Omniscan, Magnevist and OptiMARK. Doctors or radiologists administer the contrast agents through an IV.

Gadolinium Vial
Gadolinium Facts
  1. Use MRI with contrast
  2. Manufacturers Bayer; GE Healthcare; Guerbet; Bracco Diagnostic Inc.
  3. Side Effects Gadolinium toxicity; gadolinium deposition disease (GDD); nephrogenic systemic fibrosis (NSF)

Gadolinium is a rare earth metal that’s used daily in contrast solutions for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans.

Gadolinium-based contrast agents (GBCAs) are generally considered safe and effective. But like all drugs, side effects of gadolinium are possible.

Doctors and radiologists use gadolinium for MRI with contrast to provide them with sharper, more accurate images. This helps in diagnosing and monitoring treatment progress of serious health conditions, such as cancer.

What Is Gadolinium?

Gadolinium rock
Gadolinium is a rare earth metal.

Gadolinium is a chemical element. Jean Charles de Marignac discovered it in 1880. It is silvery-white in color and is able to be shaped or molded without breaking or cracking.

Gadolinium is found in nature in an oxidized form. This means it is combined with oxygen – or that it contains at least one oxygen atom.

Is Gadolinium Toxic?

Gadolinium by itself is considered toxic to humans. But gadolinium becomes less toxic when combined with other metals occurring in the body such as zinc, calcium and iron.

This bonding allows the gadolinium to be carried out through the kidneys – in the same way the body would disperse of the other metals – before it can cause harm to the body’s tissues.

What Is Gadolinium Used For?

Gadolinium is used in contrast media, agents or “dyes” for MRI scans.

MRI scans assist with disease detection, diagnosis and treatment monitoring, especially in the non-bony or soft tissue areas of the body such as the brain.

Gadolinium-based contrast agents are sometimes used to provide clearer or brighter images thereby leading to better diagnosis.

How Does Gadolinium Work?

Gadolinium provides a greater contrast between normal and abnormal tissues. It works by changing the magnetic environment during an MRI scan.

Gadolinium is colorless or clear, but when exposed to MRI scanning, it becomes very bright. It accumulates in abnormal tissues, highlighting deposits of fluid indicating irregularities – such as inflammation or blood clots – as well as unwanted growths (i.e. tumors).

The effect of Gadolinium exposed to MRI scanning.
Gadolinium is used in contrast solutions for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans.

How Is Gadolinium Administered?

Gadolinium-based contrast agents are administered directly into your vein using a small needle or tube inserted through the skin. This is known as intravenous injection.

How Long Does Gadolinium Stay in the Body?

Gadolinium can stay in the body for months or years after it’s injected, according to the medication guide. Gadolinium stays longest in the bone.

The highest concentrations have been seen in the bone, followed by other organs, including the brain, skin, kidney, liver and spleen.

Gadolinium retention is greater with Omniscan (gadodiamide) and Optimark (gadoversetamide) than with Eovist (gadoxetate disodium), Magnevist (gadopentetate dimeglumine) and MultiHance (gadobenate dimeglumine).

Symptoms of Gadolinium Retention
Patients suffering from the symptoms of gadolinium retention complain of bone and joint pain, burning and itching sensations, and brain fog.

The amount of gadolinium that stays in the body is lowest with Dotarem (gadoterate meglumine), Gadavist (gadobutrol) and ProHance (gadoteridol).

In 2018, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration required the makers of GBCAs to include updated drug labels warning about gadolinium retention. It can lead to gadolinium toxicity or a condition called gadolinium deposition disease (GDD).

Gadolinium Dosing

The recommended dose of gadolinium-based contrast agents by injection for MRI scans ranges from 0.1 to 0.2 mL per kilogram of body weight.

Flow rates may vary based on the brand of GBCA being used and the area of the body being examined by MRI. The flow rate determines the amount of medication delivered in a specified period of time.

The rate of GBCA administration for most brands generally falls between 1 mL to 2 mL per second.

Magnevist’s drug labeling recommends not exceeding a flow rate of 10 mL per 15 seconds. This brand of GBCA also advises that dosing for patients exceeding 286 pounds has not been systematically studied.

It is advised that 5 mL normal saline flush be given directly after the injection to ensure complete administration of the GBCA.

All brands’ drug labels state that imaging should be completed within one hour of administering the injection of GBCA.

Gadolinium Side Effects

Side effects of gadolinium can be minor, such as headache, nausea and dizziness. But side effects such as gadolinium toxicity or gadolinium deposition disease (GDD) can be serious or potentially life-threatening.

All brands of GBCAs carry a black box warning — the FDA’s strongest warning — for an increased risk for nephrogenic systemic fibrosis (NSF) in certain patients. Patients with kidney problems are at a greater risk for developing NSF. The rare disease can affect internal organs and cause disabling joint problems.

Patients injured after using GBCAs have filed gadolinium lawsuits.

Who Should Not Use Gadolinium?

Patients should let their doctor know if they have kidney problems before using gadolinium-based contrast agents.

Drug labels of most brands of GBCAs advise against the use of the contrast media in patients with chronic, severe kidney disease or acute kidney injury.

Experiencing side effects after exposure to Gadolinium? Get a Free Case Review

Some brands’ labeling, though – including drug labels for Gadavist, Eovist, ProHance and MultiHance – do not list kidney impairment under contraindications.

Patients with known allergies or hypersensitivities to GBCAs should not be given these drugs.

GBCA MRIs should only be used during pregnancy if the imaging is “essential… and cannot be delayed,” according to GBCA drug labels. This is because there’s a potential for serious and even life-threatening risks to the fetus.

Types of Gadolinium-Based Contrast Agents (GBCAs)

There are eight FDA-approved brands of gadolinium-based contrast agents (GBCAs). Companies that manufacture GBCAs include Bayer, GE Healthcare, Guerbet and Bracco Diagnostic Inc.

The American College of Radiology (ACR) divides the different brands of GBCAs into three groups based on their associated risk of nephrogenic systemic fibrosis (NSF).

Omniscan, Magnevist and OptiMARK, for example, make up Group I. They have the greatest number of NSF cases, according to the American College of Radiology.

These classifications include:
  • Group I Agents – having the greatest number of NSF cases
  • Group II Agents – associated with few, if any, confirmed cases of NSF
  • Group III Agents – data is limited about NSF risk
Gadolinium-Based Contrast Agents (GBCAs)
Brand Manufacturer Risk of NSF
Omniscan (gadodiamide) GE Healthcare Group I
Magnevist (gadopentetate dimeglumine) Bayer Group I
OptiMARK (gadoversetamide) Guerbet Group I
MutliHance (gadobenate dimeglumine) Bracco Diagnostic Inc. Group II
ProHance (gadoteridol) Bracco Diagnostic Inc. Group II
Gadavist (gadobutrol) Bayer Group II
Dotarem (gadoterate acid) Guerbet Group II
Eovist (gadoxetic acid) Bayer Group III

Please seek the advice of a medical professional before making health care decisions.

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Kristin Compton
Written By Kristin Compton Writer

Kristin Compton's background is in legal studies. She worked as a paralegal before joining Drugwatch as a writer and researcher. She was also a member of the National Association of Legal Assistants. A mother and longtime patient, she has firsthand experience of the harmful effects prescription drugs can have on women and their children. Some of her qualifications include:

  • Bachelor of Arts in Legal Studies | Pre-Law from University of West Florida
  • Past employment with The Health Law Firm and Kerrigan, Estess, Rankin, McLeod & Thompson LLC
  • Personal experience battling severe food allergies, asthma and high-risk pregnancies
Edited By

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