MRI machines are used heavily in the medical field because of their capability of producing high quality and very detailed images of the body's internal structure. It is the best type of scan for the soft tissue and organs inside the body. There are times that the doctor may want to use a contrast agent to get a more accurate image or to better see the finer details, such as blood vessels. However, if proper precautions are not taken, serious side effects of gadolinium can be very fatal.

Gadolinium is a rare earth metal. It is a very deadly element to humans in its free ion form. In order for it to be safe to use in real world applications, it must undergo a process known as chelation. This will tie up all the bonds that a gadolinium ion is free to make. Therefore it will be non volatile and pose little risk.

Gadolinium has ideal paramagnetic characteristics which allow it to interact with the strong magnetic field an MRI machine produces, yielding better results from the scan. There are currently five gadolinium based contrast agents approved by the FDA – Magnevist, MultiHance, Omniscan, OptiMARK and ProHance. These are only approved to be used during an MRI scan.

After a doctor administers a gadolinium contrast agent in you, there are quite a few side effects a patient may experience with varying degrees of severity. Minor side effects one may feel are headaches, nausea, dizziness and lightheadedness. These usually do not last very long and should go away after some to relax.

It is possible to have an allergic reaction to the gadolinium. Mild reactions include sweating, facial swelling, skin rashes, hives and itching. A more adverse reaction could result in the irritation of the blood vessels and the formation of blood clots.

The most devastating of all gadolinium side effects is a rare disease known as nephrogenic systemic fibrosis, also known as NSF for short. NSF is a very deadly condition which causes the excess growth of connective tissue along the skin, eyes, joints, and possibly internal organs. Studies have shown that it is highly likely for patients with renal disease or failure to develop NSF when exposed to gadolinium.

It is a disease that has not been discovered until relatively recently – the first reported case ever was in 1997. And it was not actually associated with gadolinium based contrast agents until 2006. Little is still unknown about this disease, and there is still no cure or treatment option to reverse the effects.