Difference between MRI with and without Contrast

Updated on September 28, 2015

MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging, is the scanning procedure used in medicine for examining the insides of the human body. The MRI procedure may require a special contrast agent. The contrast agent is required for those images that need finer resolution. In some cases both MRI with contrast and MRI without contrast are performed to get a clearer picture of the problem doctors are investigating. Tests of MRI without the use of contrast agents are not necessarily less accurate and helpful than those with contrast. The contrast agents may be redundant in some cases. Contrast agents used in MRI with contrast are also subjects of potential risk to the patient. We will explore more differences between the two types of MRI here.


MRI with Contrast
Brain after stroke on MRI. Left image is without contrast. Right image is with contrast agent.

MRI with contrast is required when very detailed images for evaluating the problem are needed. A special tracer agent is injected into the vein of the patient during the MRI procedure. The decision whether to make an MRI with contrast depends on the type of the problem and also depends on the history of the given patient.

MRI without contrast is the usual MRI procedure which is done without the use of the contrast agent. The results of the MRI procedure are as valuable and relevant as those done with the use of a contrast agent.

Comparison chart

MRI with contrastMRI without contrast
No need for additional MRI scanningMay require additional MRI scanning
Good at measuring a tumorIneffective for measuring a tumor
Images are clearer and are easier to interpretImages are less clear and may be hard to interpret

MRI with Contrast vs MRI without Contrast

What is the difference between MRI with and without contrast? Let’s compare them by efficacy, the ability to evaluate tumors and the level of clarity.

  • Usually, if an MRI procedure is done with the help of a contrast agent, there is no need for additional MRI procedures due to the higher resolution of the resulting scan. MRI without contrast may in some cases require additional MRI procedures to clarify the problem.
  • In order to understand if treatment of the patient with a tumor is being performed properly, MRI with contrast is required. MRI without contrast cannot generally help in evaluating the given tumor condition.
  • MRI images with contrast are clearer than the images of MRI without contrast. Due to the high clarity of images gathered by MRI with contrast, they are easier for a medical specialist to evaluate and interpret.