Psychosocial consequences and severity of disclosed incidental findings from whole-body MRI in a general population study

Eur Radiol. 2013 May;23(5):1343-51. doi: 10.1007/s00330-012-2723-8. Epub 2012 Dec 13.


Objectives: Little is known about the psychosocial impact and subjective interpretation of communicated incide ntal findings from whole-body magnetic resonance imaging (wb-MRI). This was addressed with this general population study.

Methods: Data was based on the Study of Health in Pomerania (SHIP), Germany. SHIP comprised a 1.5-T wb-MRI examination. A postal survey was conducted among the first 471 participants, aged 23-84 years, who received a notification about incidental findings (response 86.0 %, n = 405). The severity of incidental findings was assessed from the participants' and radiologists' perspective.

Results: In total, 394 participants (97.3 %) wanted to learn about their health by undergoing wb-MRI. Strong distress while waiting for a potential notification of an incidental finding was reported by 40 participants (9.9 %), whereas 116 (28.6 %) reported moderate to severe psychological distress thereafter. Strong disagreement was noted between the subjective and radiological evaluation of the findings' severity (kappa = 0.02). Almost all participants (n = 389, 96.0 %) were very satisfied with their examination.

Conclusions: Despite the high satisfaction of most participants, there were numerous adverse consequences concerning the communication of incidental findings and false expectations about the likely potential benefits of whole-body-MRI.

Key points: • Disclosed incidental findings from MRI may lead to substantial psychosocial distress. • Subjective and radiological evaluations of incidental findings' severity differ strongly. • Disclosing incidental findings is strongly endorsed by study volunteers. • Study volunteers tend to have false expectations about potential benefits from MRI. • Minimizing stress in study volunteers should be a key aim in MRI research.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Female
  • Germany / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Incidental Findings*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / psychology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / statistics & numerical data
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Satisfaction / statistics & numerical data*
  • Prevalence
  • Psychology
  • Risk Factors
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Stress, Psychological / epidemiology*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*
  • Whole Body Imaging / psychology*
  • Whole Body Imaging / statistics & numerical data
  • Young Adult