Gadolinium contrast injection

Gadolinium (Dotarem®) is a clear, colourless fluid that is used to make the images clearer during an MRI scan. It helps with diagnosis.

A radiologist (a specialist doctor trained in studying scans and X-rays) will decide if you need gadolinium. A senior radiographer (a specially trained member of the radiology team who performs the MRI scan) will discuss this with you.

Who can have it

Gadolinium is not suitable for everybody. The radiographer or radiologist will decide if it is suitable for you.

In people who have severely reduced kidney function or hepatorenal syndrome (a condition involving reduced function of the liver and kidneys), gadolinium should only be used with radiologist approval. People with these conditions cannot wee out the gadolinium and the retained gadolinium may cause problems.

It is important that you tell the radiographer or radiologist before your scan if you have any history of kidney problems.


Please also let us know if you have previous had an allergic reaction to a contrast injection.

How is it given

Gadolinium is injected into one of your veins during your scan through a cannula (a soft, thin plastic tube). The cannula is inserted through your skin into a vein using a needle. Once the cannula is in place the needle is removed, leaving the small, thin plastic tube in the blood vessel. This should be comfortable and will be removed as soon as your scan is finished.

Side effects

Gadolinium may cause side effects in some people but these are usually mild and short lasting.

Some of the side effects include:

  • pain at the injection site 
  • feeling sick (nausea)
  • being sick (vomiting)
  • itching
  • rash
  • headache
  • abnormal skin sensation, such as prickling, burning or tingling (parasthesia)


As with any injection, occasionally the fluid may leak out from the vein to the tissues under the skin. This is known as extravasation. If this happens, you will experience a stinging sensation where the contrast has gone into the tissue and it can be painful.

You can read more about contrast injection leak (extravasation).

Allergic reaction

Allergic reactions to gadolinium contrast injections are not common but do happen. Most occur during the injection or within the first hour afterwards. Some can occur up to several days later.

If you have any concerns about side effects, please speak to the staff caring for you.

You should seek immediate medical attention

if you experience any of these symptoms:

  • swelling of the face, mouth, hands, feet or throat
  • difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • fainting
  • coughing, wheezing or sneezing
  • eye irritation
  • rash, hives or itchy red skin

Resource number: 3596/VER4
Date published: July 2023
Review date: July 2026

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