Who Should Get An MRI-Compatible Pacemaker?

The Medtronic Revo MRI SureScan™ pacemaker is out, and the natural question arises: who should get it?  Up until now, pacemakers have not coexisted well with MRI scanners. Problems including inductive heating of the leads, spurious reprogramming, and various malfunctions have been reported.  Up until now, patients getting pacemakers have been told that they could not ever get MRI scans, and that’s that.  Now that there is an MRI compatible pacemaker, should all new pacemaker candidates get one?

I’m sure Medtronic would be happy if the answer to this question is yes.  The new pacemaker and leads are more expensive than their other pacemakers, and, given the ugly morass that is the U.S. Patent Office, where a company like Microsoft can patent double-clicking with a mouse, I’m sure Medtronic holds a bunch of patents on MRI compatible pacemakers that will suppress any healthy competition from other companies, or at least result in hefty licensing fees that other companies will pass on to the consumer.  So the cost will stay high, though I doubt this kind of pacemaker is any more difficult to make than any other pacemaker.  So the question becomes: is it worth the added cost of this pacing system just to ensure that sometime in the future a patient may be able to get an MRI scan?  I might add that, in addition to the added cost, the system uses larger caliber leads, and the Revo generator has an upper tracking rate of only 150 bpm, making it less attractive for use in younger patients who might be more likely to need an MRI scan over the course of their lifetime.

Medtronic states on their website that 75% of pacemaker patients will have an indication for an MRI scan during the lifetime of their device.  I think this statistic needs to be taken with a grain of salt.  There is evidence that MRI scans (as well as CT scans) are overused. In the past, we have told pacemaker patients that they would have to settle for CT scans instead of MRI scans, and I can remember only a few instances where not being able to do the MRI scan was a real problem.   So are we now to believe that, even though we have somehow survived the inability to do MRI scans in these patients since MRI scanning was invented, this is now a feature that we can’t live without?

If you read the fine print in the Revo Technical Manual, you see that the device is listed as MRI-Compatible, which is not necessarily the same as MRI-Safe.  There are still warnings listed in the manual that there can be heating of the leads and other adverse effects on the device.  You still cannot do MRI scanning of the chest region.   I’m not sure one can take away the message that it is totally safe to do MRI scanning in patients with these devices.  I might still lean towards doing CT scanning instead in a patient who is pacemaker dependent.  I’m sure it is only a matter of time before someone reports a patient who has a device complication from MRI scanning, and it only takes one lawsuit to temper one’s enthusiasm for new technology.

I do think that an MRI-Compatible pacemaker is an advance, and hope that MRI-Compatible ICDs are coming as well.  Certainly in patients that already have indications or potential indications for MRI scanning these devices are the way to go.  I cannot accept that these devices are necessary for all pacemaker candidates.  In a health care system that is on the verge of bankruptcy we don’t have the luxury to increase our costs further without getting a significant benefit.  I’m just not convinced that we should pay more just for the possibility that a patient might develop an indication for an MRI scan at some point in the future.

By mannd

I am a retired cardiac electrophysiologist who has worked both in private practice in Louisville, Kentucky and as a Professor of Medicine at the University of Colorado in Denver. I am interested not only in medicine, but also in computer programming, music, science fiction, fantasy, 30s pulp literature, and a whole lot more.


  1. Hello — after getting this pacemaker put in eight weeks ago, my wife has had severe problems with racing (180+ bpm) heart rate during moderate exercise. They have re-programmed it 4-5 times, going from hardly ever pacing her heart to now, just 8 weeks later, pacing it 100% of the time, not really what we wanted or what the surgeon originally planned to do. Any known other issues out there like this, with this pacemaker?

    1. Unfortunately the answer to this question depends on a lot of factors about your wife’s condition that only your doctor would know. I suggest be persistent in trying to get this adjusted. Consider getting a second opinion, especially if the implanting physician is not an electrophysiology specialist.

  2. What is the guidance around using these pacemakers around transformer substations? My job involves working around 22kv transformer rectifiers and I’m just about to get fitted with one of these things…

    1. It depends on the device. The pacemaker companies have tech support for patients that you can call directly. Because of concern about litigation the companies tend to be somewhat conservative in their recommendations. I would certainly start by talking to your doctor about this situation and go from there.

  3. Great Article, thank you. I am a cath lab director and I am having to deal with the ever increasing costs of health care with the decreasing reimbursements from our Government. It is difficult to justify being hit with a larger supply cost, rougly $2,500 per case, because now that an MRI pacemaker is available, every patient must have one. When for the last 30 years we were fine with non-MRI devices. When Medicare reimburses $8,700 dollars for a dual chamber system implant, and $4,500 going to the pacemaker company for the device, this doesnt leave alot to take care of the salaries needed to perform the case, recover department, other supplies for the procedure. Now, switch it over to an MRI device, and subtract another $2,000 – $2,500 from from whats left over and you are left with coins. So how does one operate a hospital on nothing? We can’t serve the patient, and put the patient first, when there isn’t a facility to perform the procedure at because one was not wise in watching the bottom line and using wisdom in who should get an MRI device or not (of the many other issues with high cost of supplies).

  4. Well…I am a very active 83 year old…able to travel, still work part time…no assistance walking or hiking (okay, I can’t hike as far :-)). My late wife had a massive stroke and they said they couldn’t do an MRI because she had a pacemaker (5 years ago). Shortly thereafter I had a stroke and have had three TIAs. A year ago I received a Medtronic pacemaker (no defibrillator), Recently I had three suspicious episodes of dizziness with blood pressure spike. (temporary) and my Neurologist ordered a brain MRI by an imaging facility (Touchstone), who said they couldn’t do it because my pacer was non-compatible. They transferred the order to Baylor Hospital, Plano who a few days later advised they also could not do it…they transferred the order to The Heart Hospital, who have yet to respond. I have notified my cardiologist, my PCP and the pacer surgeon. The surgeon called me and apologized and said the choice of pacer was 100% his and I have a right to be upset…but of course he didn’t put that in writing. But…that leaves me wondering if I need to ask that the pacemaker be changed to one that is compatible. What are the complications of doing a switch? (I am not pacemaker dependent…heart rate drops too low sometimes). The surgeon admitted that a person with my history should have qualified for a compatible one.

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