Will Steroids Affect MRI Results? All You Need To Know

  • By: Dave Moffat
  • Date: September 7, 2023
Will Steroids Affect MRI Results?

In the realm of medical imaging, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) stands out as a powerful tool, providing detailed images of the body’s internal structures. It’s often used to diagnose a variety of conditions, from brain disorders to musculoskeletal injuries.

However, there’s an ongoing discussion about whether certain substances, like steroids, can impact the results of an MRI scan.

Steroids, a class of drugs known for their potent anti-inflammatory properties, are widely used in treating various health conditions. As these drugs are increasingly prescribed, it becomes crucial to understand how they might interact with diagnostic tools like MRI.

This understanding is vital for both healthcare providers and patients, as it can influence diagnostic accuracy and, subsequently, the course of treatment. In this article, we delve into the potential effects of steroids on MRI results, aiming to shed light on this complex and critical matter.

Steroids, in the context of medicine, refer to a broad category of drugs that mimic the effects of certain hormones in the body. They are chemically similar to cholesterol, which forms the building block for various hormones in the body.

What Are Steroids

There are two main types of steroids: corticosteroids and anabolic-androgenic steroids.

Corticosteroids are often prescribed by doctors to reduce inflammation and suppress the immune system. They are used to treat a myriad of conditions, including asthma, allergies, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and many others. Prednisone and cortisone are common examples of this type of steroid.

Anabolic-androgenic steroids (AAS), on the other hand, are synthetic variations of testosterone, the primary male sex hormone. They are commonly known for their muscle-building (anabolic) and masculinizing (androgenic) effects. AAS are often used illegally for enhancing athletic performance and bodybuilding, but they also have legitimate medical uses such as treating delayed puberty and muscle wasting diseases.

The way steroids work in the body largely depends on the type of steroid. Corticosteroids, for instance, can decrease inflammation by suppressing the activity of the immune system. They do this by interfering with the function of various immune cells and chemicals involved in inflammatory responses.

Anabolic-androgenic steroids, meanwhile, promote muscle growth by binding to androgen receptors in muscle cells. This triggers a sequence of events that leads to increased protein synthesis, which is crucial for muscle growth.

It’s important to note that while steroids can be highly beneficial in managing various health conditions, their use should always be under the guidance of a healthcare professional due to potential side effects and interactions.

What Is A MRI Scan

Magnetic Resonance Imaging, commonly known as MRI, is a non-invasive imaging technology that utilizes a powerful magnetic field, radio waves, and a computer to produce detailed pictures of the inside of the body.

Unlike X-rays and CT scans, MRIs do not use ionizing radiation. Instead, it uses a large magnet and radio waves to generate signals from atoms in the body. A computer attached to the scanner then transforms these signals into images.

The MRI machine itself is a large tube-shaped device, which a patient lies. The magnetic field temporarily realigns hydrogen atoms in the body.

When the magnetic field is turned off, these atoms return to their normal state and send out radio signals. The MRI scanner picks up these signals, and a computer turns them into an image. These images can be examined on a computer monitor or printed.

MRI scans are used for a wide variety of medical diagnoses. They provide high-resolution images of the body’s soft tissues, making them especially useful in imaging the brain, muscles, heart, and cancers compared with other scanning techniques.

They can be used to diagnose brain disorders, vascular diseases, tumors, liver diseases, spinal injuries, and much more.

MRIs can guide doctors or surgeons during certain procedures. For example, an MRI might be used to guide the needle in a biopsy or a similar procedure where the doctor needs to place a needle in a precise location. They can also help doctors assess the results of surgery.

Steroids and MRI: The Connection

Steroids, particularly corticosteroids, have a significant impact on various body systems and their functions. This has led to questions about whether they can affect the results of an MRI scan. While there is no definitive answer to this question yet, several scientific studies have explored this topic with varying results.

For instance, a study titled “Combination of cyclosporine, azathioprine, and prednisolone for perianal fistulas in Crohn’s disease” reported that the effectiveness of the treatment was evaluated using MRI, suggesting that the use of steroids like prednisolone might have been a factor influencing the MRI results (source).

Another study, “The impact on treatment planning of MRI of the spine in patients suspected of vertebral metastasis: an efficacy study,” noted the effect of spinal MRI on treatment planning choices (radiation, chemotherapy, steroids) indicating that steroids are considered in conjunction with the MRI results (source).

In the context of multiple sclerosis, the Cochrane Review titled “Oral versus intravenous steroids for treatment of relapses in multiple sclerosis” examined MRI outcomes in relation to steroid treatment. The results did not show differences in MRI gadolinium enhancement activity, suggesting that the mode of steroid administration may not significantly impact MRI results (source).

Furthermore, a study on idiopathic carpal tunnel syndrome suggested that steroids do not significantly alter MRI findings (source).

These studies highlight the complex relationship between steroid use and MRI results. It appears that the impact of steroids on MRI results may depend on various factors, including the type of steroid used, the condition being treated, and potentially the individual’s response to steroid therapy.

Given this complexity, further research is needed to fully understand the implications of steroid use on MRI results.

Possible Effects of Steroids on MRI Results

Steroids may affect MRI results in different ways, depending on factors such as the type of steroid used, the dosage, the duration of use, and the individual’s overall health condition. Here is a deeper look at some of the potential effects.

1. Corticosteroids and Inflammation:

Corticosteroids are often used to reduce inflammation in the body. According to a study published in Rheumatology, inflammatory changes detected by MRI vanished after months under steroid treatment (source). This suggests that corticosteroids could potentially alter MRI results by reducing inflammation, which could change the appearance of certain tissues or organs on the scan.

In another study, it was found that the effect of methylprednisolone treatment was temporary, lasting on average 9.7 weeks, as demonstrated by MRI (source). This implies that the timing of steroid administration relative to the MRI scan could also influence the results.

2. Steroids and Brain Structure:

Certain steroids may also cause structural changes in the brain, which could be detected on an MRI scan. For instance, Health Imaging reported that the use of steroid medications can result in structural changes of the brain (source).

Moreover, a study linked both systemic and inhaled steroid use to less intact white matter structure, as shown on MRI scans (source). This suggests that long-term or heavy use of certain steroids could potentially lead to changes in brain structure that might be visible on an MRI.

3. Steroids and Active Lesions:

There is also some evidence that steroids might affect the appearance of active lesions on an MRI. For instance, a post on MS World discussed whether oral steroids might interfere with MRI results, noting that a small amount of steroid administered less than 24 hours before an MRI isn’t likely to remove the inflammation from active lesions (source).

The Medical Community’s Perspective

The medical community’s perspective on the use of steroids before an MRI is diverse and largely depends on the individual patient’s condition, the type of steroid used, and the purpose of the MRI scan. Here are some insights gathered from various medical sources:

Steroids and Diagnostic Accuracy

A study published in Rheumatology found that the diagnostic accuracy of MRI in detecting giant cell arteritis (a kind of vasculitis) starts decreasing within the first days of steroid treatment (source). This suggests that early steroid treatment could potentially interfere with the accuracy of MRI results in certain conditions.

Steroids and Epidural Injections

A study on the effect of epidural corticosteroid injection on MRI found no significant differences between groups who received the injection and those who didn’t (source). This indicates that such steroid injections may not significantly impact the results of an MRI scan.

Steroids as Pre-Medication

Some institutions like Yale School of Medicine recommend pre-medication with steroids only for patients who have had a reaction to contrast agents of a similar class used during imaging procedures (source).

Steroids and Allergic Reactions

In cases where patients might have an allergic reaction to contrast dye used in MRI scans, steroids are sometimes administered beforehand to prevent such reactions (source).

Steroids and Cancer Treatment

There’s research indicating that steroids may limit the effectiveness of immunotherapy for brain cancer, highlighting the importance of considering steroid usage in cancer patients undergoing MRI scans (source).

Based on these studies and guidelines, it appears that the medical community views the use of steroids before an MRI on a case-by-case basis, considering factors such as the patient’s health condition, the type of steroid, and the purpose of the MRI scan. It’s always recommended that patients discuss their medication use, including steroids, with their healthcare provider before undergoing an MRI.

Practical Implications

The potential effects of steroids on MRI results have several practical implications for patients who are using these medications and need to undergo an MRI.

Communication with Healthcare Providers

Patients should always inform their healthcare provider about any medications they are taking, including steroids. This is crucial because the type, dosage, and duration of steroid use can potentially affect the results of an MRI scan.

Timing of Steroid Use and MRI Scans

Depending on the condition being treated, the timing of steroid administration in relation to the MRI scan may be important. For instance, in some cases, it might be necessary to wait a certain period after taking steroids before undergoing an MRI to ensure accurate results.

Consideration of Alternative Imaging Techniques

In some cases, if there’s concern that steroid use might interfere with MRI results, healthcare providers might consider using alternative imaging techniques. However, this would largely depend on the specific medical condition and the individual patient’s needs.

Management of Potential Allergic Reactions

For patients who have had allergic reactions to contrast agents used in MRI scans, pre-medication with steroids might be recommended to prevent such reactions. This should be managed under the supervision of a healthcare provider.

Review of Ongoing Treatment Plans

If a patient is undergoing long-term steroid therapy, this could potentially impact the results of MRI scans over time. It’s important for healthcare providers to regularly review treatment plans and adjust as necessary based on imaging results.


The use of steroids before MRI scans can potentially lead to inaccurate results or cause other complications. It’s important for patients taking steroids to inform their healthcare provider about their medication use so they can be assessed on a case-by-case basis and receive the appropriate treatment and care.

Healthcare providers should also consider external factors, such as timing of steroid administration, when interpreting MRI results and should review treatment plans on a regular basis. Understanding the potential effects of steroids on MRI scans can help ensure accurate results and better patient care.

In addition, patients taking steroids should discuss any concerns about MRI scan safety with their healthcare provider before undergoing an exam. In some cases, alternative imaging techniques might be recommended if the steroid use is expected to interfere with the accuracy of MRI results.

By following these guidelines, patients can help ensure they receive the best care and accurate diagnosis.

Ultimately, it’s clear that steroid use is something to be considered before undergoing an MRI scan. Open communication between healthcare providers and patients is essential in order to minimize the potential risks associated with taking steroids prior to an MRI procedure.

This means being aware of the potential effects of taking steroids on MRI results and seeking appropriate medical advice when needed. With a better understanding of this medical issue, patients can feel confident in receiving the best care possible for their individual diagnosis and treatment plans.

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Hi, I'm Dave Moffat the founder and Chief Editor of steroidsourcetalk.com and certified International Personal Trainer and Certified Nutritionist. My passion has always been bodybuilding but with 15 years' experience in weight loss programs too, it's hard not to mention all that when you're working at your fitness level fullest (I hope). When Im not in the gym or spending time away from my family i often think about what advice would help others achieve theirs goals just like these inspired mine.