Cardiac MRI

Cardiac MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) is a relatively new technique that allows radiology physicians to non-invasively image the beating heart in ways never before possible. For the first time, specialists can visualize all four chambers of the heart from any point of view to more accurately and quantitatively assess the patient’s heart function.

Because of the complexity of diagnosing and treating heart disease, collaboration between different types of specialists is part of the treatment protocol for all heart patients at UNC. Cardiac MRI brings together an experienced team of radiologists, pediatric cardiologists, and adult cardiologists to evaluate each patient’s condition and determine the best course of treatment.

In certain disease processes where it helps to understand the actual physiology of the problem, cardiac MRI can help physicians avoid invasive procedures in making a diagnosis. It’s most commonly used to determine the viability of different areas of the heart, and actually put a quantitative measure on that viability. Cardiac MRI can also be used to diagnose infiltrative processes such as amyloid heart disease or myopathy, or to assess valvular or aortic conditions such as Marfan’s syndrome.


Adult Cardiology
Larry Klein, MD
Brian Hyslop, MD

CT/ MRI Diagnosis

For years, Computed Tomography (CT scans) and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) have helped physicians diagnose various ailments, such as knee injuries, brain tumors and complex bone fractures. CT and MR images help physicians plan surgeries, biopsy tumors, and drain abscesses. At UNC, the vascular-interventional group is now using Computed Tomography Angiography (CTA) and Magnetic Resonance Angiography (MRA) to diagnose blood clots, aneurysms and the narrowing of blood vessels in the chest, abdomen and legs. In terms of diagnostic care for arterial maladies, this is state-of-the-art technology—computers and x-rays for CT, large magnets and radio waves for MR.

The key to CTA and MRA is that they are not surgical in nature like traditional angiograms, which is when a doctor inserts a catheter inside an artery, injects die and uses x-rays to create images of arteries. There is little risk in this traditional procedure, but complications could arise, such as a hematoma when the catheter is removed. For CTA or MRA, physicians use an IV, a contrast agent, and then CT or MR to create the image. This is quicker, safer, and allows physicians to make clear images so surgeons can more accurately measure the problem and better plan how to repair it. Then, after surgery and for the remainder of the patient’s life, physicians can use CTA or MRA to create images of the arteries to make sure the repair has remained intact.

Physicians in the vascular-interventional section at UNC Hospitals also use CTA and MRA to diagnose other conditions, such as congenital heart defects and aortic dissections, which is when a tear in the aorta causes blood to flow between the layers of the arterial wall. This is an extremely serious condition that demands quick diagnosis and then extensive follow-up.

CTA and MRA have also proven to be effective in diagnosing diseases that were unrelated to the patients' vascular system. While using CTA or MRA to image arteries and veins, physicians have occasionally found cancers in the chests and abdomens of patients. This results in quicker evaluation and treatment of these findings by the multidisciplinary teams at UNC.

Physicians Robert Dixon, Charles Burke, Joseph Stavas, and Kyung Kim work closely with UNC’s vascular and cardiovascular surgeons. Because they work so closely together, this creates a high level of collaboration that translates into better patient care.


Joe Stavas, MD
Robert Dixon, MD
Charles Burke, MD

Contact Us

Call the Heart & Vascular Center referral line at 866-862-4327 to find specialists, make an appointment or learn more about preventing heart disease.

Open Access is a new physician referral service, created by the UNC Center for Heart & Vascular Care, which coordinates all admissions and transfers through a single phone call and guarantees immediate acceptance for patients. Please contact us to learn more or call 866-862-4327.

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