MRI Contrast Agent Gadolinium May Deposit and Retain in the Brain

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Originally published on by Natasha Hobley

Magnetic resonance images (MRIs) are used to investigate or diagnose conditions that affect soft tissue in the body such as brain tumors, brain disorders, torn ligaments, or spinal issues. They are so common that nearly 40 million MRIs are performed annually in the United States. But questions and debate remain regarding the safety of the injectable gadolinium-based contrast agent (GBCA) used to conduct MRIs after a 2014 Japanese study demonstrated the agent is deposited and retained in the brain.1

Heavy Metal Gadolinium Used for MRI Contrasting

Gadolinium is a dense heavy metal not naturally occurring in the human body. Aside from the 2014 study, patients have reported side effects that they attribute to the gadolinium, which they didn't experience until getting an MRI. It is known and acknowledged by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that individuals with insufficient renal function cannot effectively filter gadolinium from the body and that fact is noted in a warning on gadolinium contrast packaging. However, there is little evidence demonstrating safety for those with normal renal function or other detoxing issues.1

Doctors Refuse to Recognize Gadolinium Deposition Disease

There are several social media pages that discuss MRI gadolinium toxicity to help raise public awareness about potential connections to health issues that arise following the MRI procedure. In 2017, actor Chuck Norris filed a lawsuit against Bracco Imaging seeking $10 million on behalf of his wife Gena, who experienced "debilitating bouts of pain and a burning sensation", violent shaking, weakness, cognitive deficits, and kidney damage after being injected with gadolinium prior to administering MRI scans.2

The lawsuit alleged Norris' wife contracted "gadolinium deposition disease," which is a term used by patients who claim chronic health issues after getting a contrast MRI. However, the term is not largely recognized or accepted by the medical community, with most physicians maintaining that there is a lack of scientific evidence showing a direct connection. Norris voluntarily abandoned the lawsuit in 2020. While no statement was given by Norris, the lawsuit made media headlines and brought attention to the potential risks and patient complaints.2

A July 2021 article published by nine female physicians with "self -diagnosed gadolinium deposition disease symptoms" reported symptoms they experienced after MRI gadolinium exposure, which included burning sensation, brain fog, fatigue, headache, and involuntary muscle movements.  The conclusion segment states that all of the women experienced common features of gadolinium deposition disease, which had a substantial effect on their day-to-day lives and that "physicians are educated reporters on disease, so their personal descriptions should spark interest in further research."3

Patient Complaints of Symptoms Often Dismissed by Doctors

The intention of the nine women physicians suffering with gadolinium depositions disease was to bring attention to the need for further research on the disease by arguing that they should be listened to because they are physicians. Their plea highlights one of the largest issues in medical care today: the complete dismissal by doctors of most female patients complaining of unusual symptoms for years or even decades, especially if those symptoms are associated with a recommended pharmaceutical product.

Hormonal birth control is a prime example of this as women who report serious issues related to birth control are often told the issue is in their head or is not related. A recent Washington Post article outlined this well as the author downplayed women's claims about their post birth control symptoms, such as infertility and depression, and labeled their experiences as "misinformation" being spread online about birth control.4

European Medicines Agency Restricts Some Contrast Agents

Medicine in America also tends to take on a "wait and see" approach when it comes to safety, rather than one that proactively protects the population. Director of MRI services Emanuel Kanal, MD stated that, while he was not completely convinced that gadolinium is not toxic, there was too little data examining toxicity. "I don't know which way to turn yet. The issue is a lack of data showing toxicity, but lots of data showing it is safe," Dr. Kanal said.1

Officials at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have stated there is no clinical evidence that directly links gadolinium retention to adverse health effects in patients with normal kidney function. Officials at the European Medicines Agency (EMA), which seem to take a more precautionary approach, have stated that, despite there being no current evidence of harm caused by gadolinium, the agency has recommended restrictions of some gladolinium agents, including suspension of marketing authorizations, in order to minimize risks associated with gadolinium brain deposition.1


1 Fornell D. The debate over gandolinium MRI contrast toxicity. Imaging Technology News Feb. 16, 2018.

2 Stempniak M. Chuck Norris voluntarily abandons poisoning lawsuit against gadolinium manufacturer Bracco. Radiology Business Jan. 17, 2020.

3 Semelka R, Ramalho M. Physicians with self diagnosed deposition disease: a case series. Radiologia Brasileria July 2021.

4 Weber L, Malhi S. Women are getting off birth control amid misinformation explosion. The Washington Post Mar. 21, 2024.

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