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When is an MRI of the Brain Recommended?
A brain MRI may be ordered by your physician to get a more detailed look at structures in the brain such as the cerebrum, cerebellum, pituitary gland, ventricles, and brainstem. The brain functions by using neural and chemical networks to connect these components and translate them to function. A CT scan is usually the first line of medical radiology imaging for a sudden incident such as a traumatic brain injury or suspected hemorrhagic stroke because it shows blood the best. However, the CT scan may not show subtle findings as well as an MRI. An MRI of the brain is most often used to detect and diagnose symptoms that are progressing such as chronic headaches or to rule out a tumor.
What Processes Can a Brain MRI See?
The brain is composed of grey and white matter neural and chemical pathways arranged for various functions. The cerebrum which takes up most of the volume of the brain consists of two hemispheres (right and left) and is made up of sections called lobes. The main lobes are frontal, temporal, parietal, and occipital. MRI is the first line in imaging to exclude primary tumors of the brain or metastasis to the brain from cancer somewhere else in the body.
A Brain MRI can distinguish subtle changes in the white or grey matter that make up the substance between the lobes. These neural speedways are especially important for everyday processes such as problem-solving and memory recall. Pathology can present as dementia, neurologic disorders like multiple sclerosis, or movement disorders including Parkinson's Disease.
What is a Brain MRI?
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI for short) is a radiology imaging technology that uses magnets and radio waves to produce detailed 3-D Imaging of the Brain. These signals are then converted to digital images for the radiologists to interpret. MRI is commonly performed to distinguish normal tissues from injured or pathologic tissues. MRI is also used as a diagnostic imaging scan to find the reason for a complaint or symptom.
How is a Brain MRI Performed?
Before the MRI Imaging is performed, The Women's Imaging Center will determine if this exam is the best one for you. We may inject a contrast dye (called Gadolinium) into a vein in your arm. The contrast is taken up differently in different types of tissues to different degrees. It is important to tell the scheduler AND the MRI technologist if you have ever had an allergic reaction to a contrast agent previously. The dye used in MRI is different from that used in a CT exam. For most people, this is not an issue.
The MRI imaging may take 25 to 40 minutes depending on whether contrast dye needs to be administered or whether special imaging sequences are needed. The complexity of the brain imaging may affect the time needed to perform the MRI scan.
How to Prepare Ahead of Time:
You will be asked to complete the medical history of any medical conditions. Please tell the scheduler and the technologist if you have any metal in your body such as metal fragments from trauma or surgery that may be an issue for the “magnetic pull” of the MRI. Tell us if you have had any surgeries or procedures anywhere on your body including your limbs, abdomen, brain, or heart. If you have any implanted devices such as pacemakers, defibrillators, aneurysm clips, auditory hearing implants, neurotransmitters, internal wires or electrodes, implanted pumps or ports, surgical mesh, any coils, stents, or filters please tell your technologist before scheduling because an MRI may not be possible.
Some external body wear or design such as body or face/ makeup tattooing, permanent piercings may limit you from having the MRI. Current or prior metal workers may have small fragments in their eyes as an occupational hazard. You may be asked to have an x-ray prior to performing the MRI. Jewelry and piercings need to be taken out by you for your safety in the magnet. Please see our MRI SAFETY FORM for more information.
You will be lying on your back on a comfortable table that moves into and out of the MRI machine. The magnet makes a loud clunky sound so the technologists will fit you with comfortable headphones and you may choose to listen to music through the headphone that makes the magnet sound indistinct. Many patients actually find the MRI scan soothing because of the music and may fall asleep. It is important not to move quickly or jerk during the exam because this may cause irregularities in the images from signals of the magnets moving.
How Do I Get My Results?
Hundreds of MRI images of the brain in various sequences will be produced for each radiology scan that needs to be interpreted. Therefore, the results will not be immediately available. An MRI specialist or the patient navigator will call you regarding your results once the interpretation is complete.
If you have any prior MRI images elsewhere, please let us know the location so that we can obtain these for faster comparison. The images from many centers can be quickly transferred to The Women’s Imaging Center. You might have to sign a release form so that we may request this transfer. We will also send a copy of your report to your ordering clinician and they will discuss any further action recommended based on your imaging results.