Federal health officials warn that patients who wear nicotine or other drug patches during M.R.I. scans may get burned due to the machine’s huge magnet that can heat tiny metal elements found in the patches. Not all patches contain these aluminum elements. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has received at least five reports of patients wearing patches who experienced a skin burn similar to a sunburn during an M.R.I. screening; federal officials are usually only alerted to a fraction of the injuries associated with a particular drug or device so the number may be much more.
About sixty different types of drug patches are sold in the United States, and about twenty contain the small metal fragments. Some of the patches do not warn patients about these metal fragments, and since few people review the box after donning the patch, the FDA will soon require that all manufacturers put warnings, such as "Remove Before M.R.I." on the patch itself. Patients should consult their physician regarding whether or not to replace or reuse the patches after removing them for scans.
This patch alert is the latest in an assortment of safety warnings involving increasingly powerful M.R.I. devices, due to the unpredictable effects of strong magnets used in the devices that are continuing to be discovered. Radiologists are now warning patients that they can experience discomfort or injury if they have tattoos, implanted medical devices or shrapnel. Tattoos also contain metallic elements in some cases, which can lead to warming in the skin that can grow uncomfortable. Some M.R.I. screening rooms place metal detectors in front of the rooms to prevent the problem of patients forgetting to remove metal objects before entering.