Increasing use is made of extracellular MRI contrast agents that alter the image contrast following intravenous administration; they predominantly shorten the T1 relaxation time of tissues. The degree and location of these changes provide substantial diagnostic information. However gadolinium-based contrast agents (Gd-CA) are not inert drugs. They may cause acute non-renal adverse reactions (e.g. anaphylactoid reactions), acute renal adverse reactions (e.g. contrast induced nephropathy), delayed adverse reactions (nephrogenic systemic fibrosis) and problems at the site of injection (e.g. local necrosis). This review describes the current status of Gd-CA, their mechanism of action, chemical structure, pharmacokinetics, dosage, elimination, nephrotoxicity and adverse events.