Both an MRI and MRA are noninvasive and painless diagnostic tools used to view tissues, bones, or organs inside the body.

An MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) creates detailed images of organs and tissues. An MRA (magnetic resonance angiography) focuses more on the blood vessels than the tissue surrounding it.

If your doctor is looking for issues within the blood vessels, they’ll often schedule an MRA for you. Here’s what you need to know about these two tests:

An MRI is a type of scan used to view internal body parts.

This can include the organs, tissues, and bones. The MRI machine creates a magnetic field and then bounces radio waves through the body that work to map the scanned part of the body.

Sometimes during MRIs, the doctor must use contrast agents that help the radiologist to see the body part being scanned more thoroughly.

An MRA is a type of MRI exam.

Usually, the MRA is done in conjunction with the MRI. MRAs evolved from MRIs to give doctors the ability to look at blood vessels more thoroughly.

The MRA is composed of MRI signals that include spatial data.

Before either an MRI or MRA exam, you’ll be asked if you have any issues that would interfere with the MRI machine or your safety.

These can include:

  • tattoos
  • piercings
  • medical devices
  • implants
  • pacemakers
  • joint replacements
  • metal of any kind

The MRI is done with a magnet, therefore items containing metal can pose a hazard to the machine and your body.

If you’re getting an MRA, you may need a contrast agent. This will be injected into your veins. It will be used to give the images more contrast so that your veins or arteries will be easier to see.

You might be given earplugs or ear protection of some sort. The machine is loud and has the potential to harm your hearing.

You’ll be asked to lay on a table. The table will slide into the machine.

It may feel tight inside the machine. If you’ve experienced claustrophobia in the past, you should let your doctor know before the procedure.

The risks for MRIs and MRAs are similar.

If you have the need for an intravenous contrast agent, you may have an added risk associated with the injection. Other risks can include:

  • heating of the body
  • skin burns from radiofrequency
  • magnetic reactions from objects within your body
  • hearing damage

Health risks are very rare with MRIs and MRAs. The FDA receives roughly 300 reports a year out of the millions of MRI scans performed.

Both MRAs and MRIs are used to view internal parts of the body.

MRIs are used for brain abnormalities, joint injuries, and various other abnormalities while MRAs can be ordered for:

MRIs and MRAs aren’t very different. The MRA scan is a form of an MRI and is performed with the same machine.

The only difference is that the MRA takes more detailed images of the blood vessels than the organs or tissue surrounding them. Your doctor will recommend one or both depending on their needs to make a proper diagnosis.