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What nephrologists need to know about gadolinium.

Gadolinium chelates are commonly used to improve tissue contrast in MRI. Until recently the use of gadolinium was thought to be risk-free compared with alternative contrast agents. Recent studies, however, have raised serious concerns regarding the safety of gadolinium chelates. Although safe in patients with normal kidney function, administration of these agents in people with renal dysfunction can result in up to three clinical problems that the nephrologist should be familiar with. The first is nephrogenic systemic fibrosis (NSF), which was initially observed in 1997. Although manifesting primarily in skin, NSF can also cause systemic fibrosis, leading to disabling contractures and even death. Gadodiamide is the agent that has been most frequently associated with NSF, but other chelates might also pose a risk. The second clinical problem is that gadolinium chelates cause acute kidney injury, especially at high doses required for angiography. The third problem is that several laboratory artifacts are associated with gadolinium administration, with pseudohypocalcemia being the most important. The risk of a patient experiencing all three of these complications increases as renal function declines. In light of these problems, nephrologists need to re-evaluate the risks and benefits of gadolinium administration in patients with chronic kidney disease stage 3 or greater, as well as in those with acute kidney injury.

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