Health expert: Don’t let Chuck Norris lawsuit scare you from MRI contrast dye

WASHINGTON — People with serious medical conditions shouldn’t be discouraged from using contrast dyes during Magnetic Resonance Imaging, according to a local health expert who is concerned a high-profile lawsuit might lead some to think the dye is risky.

Actor Chuck Norris and his wife Gena Norris are suing drug companies, claiming that a contrast dye used during MRIs nearly killed her.

Federal investigators, however, have found no adverse health effects from Gadolinium-Based Contrast Agents, and the chair of radiology at MedStar Washington Hospital Center said he would hate for anyone to think otherwise.

“It’d be tragic [because if] we didn’t get the contrast, [we could] miss a small tumor or miss an area of infection that we would ordinarily see if we had given the contrast,” Dr. James Jelinek said.

GBCAs have been used on millions of people for more than 30 years, and there’s never been proven, documented harm in anyone who was healthy, Jelinek said. He added that only minuscule traces of the agent have been detected as remaining in the bodies of patients, but well-working kidneys wash away most of it.

“For healthy people with healthy kidneys — the amount that’s being retained by the body is a really, really tiny amount,” Jelinek said. “You’re going to have a hard time finding anything in the scientific literature that says because they had built up deposits in the brain that they were harmed.”

Jelinek said that in the early 2000s patients experiencing kidney failure who were given older versions of gadolinium-based contrast agents for MRIs had serious reactions, including death.

“Since we stopped giving this contrast agent to people with bad renal function and since we switched some of the agents, worldwide there hasn’t been a recorded case in three years,” Jelinek said. “It’s pretty rare.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration website states that the FDA has not identified adverse health effects from gadolinium-based contrast agents, but it also advises people to talk to their health care professionals if they have any questions or concerns about using them with MRIs.

“We will continue to assess the safety of GBCAs and plan to have a public meeting to discuss this issue in the future,” the FDA website states.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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