Gadolinium has been used for years in the enhancement of MRI images on thousands of patients without a large number of serious adverse events occurring. The US Food and Drug Administration approved Gadolinium for use in MRI procedures in 1988 and since then they have approved five specific Gadolinium based contrast agents for usage in the imaging procedure. Generally, the side effects associated with the injection of Gadolinium are mild. The most common side effects are a mild headache, nausea, and a slight burning sensation at the site of the injection. In a few cases, the patient experiences lightheadedness and low blood pressure.
The serious side effect that occurs with the most frequency after an injection of a Gadolinium based contrast agent is an allergic reaction. The reaction is usually mild, but can quickly turn life-threatening if not treated promptly. The symptoms of an allergic reaction to a Gadolinium based contrast agent include itchy skin, hives, itchy eyes, and a rash. In severe cases, excessive sweating, facial swelling, and shortness of breath may be observed. In some patients, a localized allergic reaction can occur at the site of the injection. This reaction includes slight inflammation and irritation of the blood vessels and the vein subjected to the injection.
A severe side effect attributed to Gadolinium has been observed in patients suffering from advanced kidney disease and kidney failure. The condition is called Nephrogenic Systemic Fibrosis (NSF), also known as Nephrogenic Fibrosing Dermopathy (NFD), and it is considered a very rare condition, with less than 300 cases of the condition confirmed worldwide. The condition is a relatively new one, with the first medical references to the condition appearing in the year 2000. Nephrogenic Systemic Fibrosis affects the skin and internal organs of the afflicted patients, resulting in thick, coarse skin that has the appearance of orange peel. In some cases, the condition has proved to be fatal.
The condition begins with the appearance of reddened or darkened patches on the skin. The patchy areas will start to become hard and tighten, with many patients experiencing severe burning and itching sensations beneath the skin. The thickening of the skin of patients affected by Nephrogenic Systemic Fibrosis restricts the movement of the joints and the soft tissue beneath the affected areas begins to calcify. The condition typically affects the arms, legs, hands, and feet of the patient, though in rare cases it can affect the trunk of the body as well. As the condition advances, it begins to affect the internal organs of the patient, causing them to thicken and scar as well.
Nephrogenic Systemic Fibrosis is a very recently discovered condition and not much is known about it yet. Researchers believe that there is a direct connection between the use of a Gadolinium based contrast agent and the development of Nephrogenic Systemic Fibrosis. The US Food and Drug Administration has issued a public health advisory warning of the dangers of the injectable contrast agents and experts are recommending that individuals with advanced kidney disease or kidney failure should avoid these contrast agents if possible.