Will Steroids Affect MRI Results? All You Need To Know

  • By: Dave Moffat
  • Date: December 6, 2023
Will Steroids Affect MRI Results?

In the world of medical pictures, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is a really strong tool. It gives detailed pictures of what’s inside the body. Doctors often use it to diagnose lots of different health problems, from brain disorders to injuries in muscles and bones.

There is a big question about whether steroids can affect MRI results.

Steroids are a type of drug that are really good at calming down inflammation, or swelling. They’re used a lot to treat all kinds of health problems. Doctors are prescribing these drugs more frequently. It’s crucial to understand their potential interactions with diagnostic tools, such as MRI.

Knowing this is crucial for doctors and patients. It impacts diagnosis accuracy and treatment decisions. In this article, we will discuss the impact of steroids on MRI results. This topic is complex but crucial for understanding.

Steroids in medicine are a large group of drugs. They mimic certain hormones in the body. Cholesterol and hormones have a similar structure in the body.

What Are Steroids

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

Doctors often give out corticosteroids to calm down swelling and make the immune system less active. Corticosteroids treat various health problems, including asthma, allergies, and arthritis. One type of joint disease, called rheumatoid arthritis, is also treated. Additionally, lupus and numerous other health conditions are treated by corticosteroids. Prednisone and cortisone are common examples of this kind of steroid.

Anabolic-androgenic steroids (AAS) are man-made versions of testosterone. Testosterone is the main male sex hormone. They have a reputation for building muscle, known as anabolic. Additionally, they enhance masculinity, called androgenic, in individuals. AAS are commonly misused by athletes to enhance performance and muscle growth. However, they also have legitimate medical uses to treat delayed puberty and muscle-wasting diseases.

How steroids work in the body depends a lot on what kind of steroid it is. For example, corticosteroids can decrease swelling by making the immune system less active. They accomplish this by interfering with immune cells and chemicals. These play a role in causing swelling.

Anabolic-androgenic steroids help muscles grow. They stick to androgen receptors in muscle cells. This starts a chain of events that leads to more protein synthesis, which is super important for muscle growth.

Steroids can help manage health problems, but need professional supervision. Possible side effects and interactions must be considered.

What Is A MRI Scan

MRI is a unique method for imaging the body’s interior. It doesn’t require surgery or incisions. It uses a super strong magnet, radio waves, and a computer to create really detailed pictures.

Unlike X-rays and CT scans, MRIs don’t use a type of radiation that can be harmful. Instead, it uses a big magnet and radio waves to get signals from atoms in the body. A computer that’s attached to the scanner then changes these signals into pictures.

The MRI machine is a big tube-shaped thing that a patient lies in. The magnetic field makes hydrogen atoms in the body line up in a certain way.

When the magnetic field is turned off, these atoms go back to their normal state and send out radio signals. The MRI scanner picks up these signals, and a computer changes them into an image. These images can be looked at on a computer screen or printed out.

MRI scans help doctors diagnose all sorts of health problems. MRI scans provide clear images of soft tissues in the body. They are very effective for capturing images of the brain, muscles, heart, and cancers. Other scanning techniques cannot do this.

They can be used to diagnose brain disorders, blood vessel diseases, tumors, liver diseases, spinal injuries, and a lot more.

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MRIs can also help doctors or surgeons during certain procedures. An MRI can guide the needle during a biopsy procedure. The doctor needs to insert the needle in a specific spot. They can also help doctors see how well a surgery went.

Steroids and MRI: The Connection

Steroids, especially corticosteroids, can really affect how different parts of your body work. Because of this, some people have asked whether they can change the results of an MRI scan. Scientific studies have explored this question, but no clear answer exists. Different findings have emerged from these studies.

In one study, researchers evaluated the treatment’s effectiveness using MRI. They used a combination of cyclosporine, azathioprine, and prednisolone. The treatment was for perianal fistulas in Crohn’s disease. The MRI results might have been affected by steroid use.

“The impact on treatment planning of MRI of the spine” was discussed in another study. This study focused on patients suspected of vertebral metastasis. It examined how spinal MRI influenced treatment decisions, such as radiation, chemotherapy, or steroids. This shows that doctors think about steroids when they look at the MRI results (source).

The researchers conducted a review on multiple sclerosis. The review focused on the comparison between oral and intravenous steroids. They specifically looked at the impact of steroid treatment on MRI outcomes. The MRI results didn’t show differences in gadolinium enhancement activity. This suggests that the way steroids are given may not affect MRI results.

A study on carpal tunnel syndrome found that steroids don’t affect MRI results.

These studies show that the relationship between steroid use and MRI results is complicated. The impact of steroids on MRI results may vary. Factors include the type of steroid used and the specific health condition being treated. Additionally, individual responses to steroid therapy may play a role.

Because this is so complicated, more research is needed to fully understand how steroid use might affect MRI results.

Possible Effects of Steroids on MRI Results

Steroids can impact MRI results in various ways. The impact depends on factors like the type, dosage, duration, and individual’s health. Here is a deeper look at some of the potential effects.

1. Corticosteroids and Inflammation:

Corticosteroids are usually used to calm down swelling in the body. The MRI showed swelling changes. After months of steroid treatment, they disappeared. Corticosteroids might alter MRI results by reducing swelling, potentially affecting appearance.

In a separate study, scientists discovered that the impact of a particular steroid named methylprednisolone did not endure indefinitely. Instead, it lasted approximately 9.7 weeks on average, as revealed by an MRI scan. (source) This means that when the steroid is given in relation to when the MRI scan is done could also affect the results.

2. Steroids and Brain Structure:

Some steroids might even cause changes in the structure of the brain, which could be seen on an MRI scan. For example, Health Imaging reported that using steroid medications can lead to changes in the structure of the brain (source).

Another study found a connection between systemic and inhaled steroid use. This connection is linked to less healthy white matter structure on MRI scans. This suggests that using certain steroids a lot or for a long time could possibly lead to changes in the structure of the brain that might be seen 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. A post on MS World discussed if oral steroids affect MRI results. It noted that a small amount of steroid before an MRI won’t reduce inflammation in active lesions.

The Medical Community’s Perspective

The medical community has diverse perspectives on using steroids before an MRI. These perspectives largely depend on the patient’s condition, the type of steroid, and the MRI’s purpose. Here are some insights gathered from various medical sources:

Steroids and Diagnostic Accuracy

The diagnostic accuracy of MRI in detecting giant cell arteritis starts decreasing. This occurs within the first days of steroid treatment, according to a study published in Rheumatology. Early steroid treatment may affect MRI accuracy in specific conditions.

Steroids and Epidural Injections

The study examined the impact of epidural corticosteroid injection on MRI. It found that there were no significant differences between the group that received the injection and the group that didn’t. This indicates that such steroid injections may not significantly impact the results of an MRI scan.

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Steroids as Pre-Medication

Yale School of Medicine suggests using steroids before imaging procedures. This is for patients who had a reaction to similar contrast agents before.

Steroids and Allergic Reactions

Sometimes, patients may have an allergic reaction to contrast dye used in MRI scans. To prevent these reactions, steroids are given before the scan.

Steroids and Cancer Treatment

Some studies show that steroids might make immunotherapy (a type of treatment) less effective for brain cancer. This shows how important it is to think about whether a cancer patient has taken steroids when they get an MRI scan (source).

Based on these studies and rules, it seems like doctors decide whether to use steroids before an MRI depending on the situation. They think about things like the patient’s health, what kind of steroid it is, and why the MRI scan is being done. It’s always a good idea for patients to talk about any medicines they’re taking, including steroids, with their doctor before getting an MRI.

Practical Implications

The use of steroids may impact MRI results. This has practical implications for patients undergoing scanning.

Communication with Healthcare Providers

Patients should tell their healthcare provider about all medications they take. This includes 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. In certain cases, waiting after using steroids is necessary before an MRI. This ensures accurate results.

Consideration of Alternative Imaging Techniques

Healthcare providers may use alternative imaging techniques if there’s concern that steroid use would affect MRI results. However, this would largely depend on the specific medical condition and the individual patient’s needs.

Management of Potential Allergic Reactions

Patients who have had allergic reactions to MRI contrast agents may be recommended to take steroids as a pre-medication. This can help prevent future allergic 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. Healthcare providers should review treatment plans regularly and adjust as necessary. They should base adjustments on imaging results.


Using steroids before an MRI scan can cause inaccurate results. It may also result in other complications. It’s important for people taking steroids to tell their doctor about the medicines they’re taking. That way, the doctor can look at each person’s situation and give the right treatment and care.

When looking at MRI results, doctors should also consider other factors. For example, they should think about when the steroid was taken. They should also check treatment plans regularly. Knowing the impact of steroids on MRI scans helps ensure accurate results and optimal patient care.

If you’re on steroids, talk to your doctor before an MRI scan. The doctor may recommend a different scan if steroids could affect the MRI.

By following these rules, patients can help make sure they get the best care and correct diagnosis.

In the end, it’s clear that we need to think about steroid use before an MRI scan. It’s really important for doctors and patients to talk openly to lower the possible risks of taking steroids before an MRI.

Taking steroids can alter MRI results. It’s important to seek medical advice in such cases. With a better understanding of this issue, patients can feel sure they’re getting the best care for their personal diagnosis and treatment plans.

Dave Moffat

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.