When Do You Need a Brain MRI?
A brain MRI often shows subtle findings that other imaging tests can miss. We use brain MRIs to evaluate or diagnose many brain conditions or symptoms, including:
- Traumatic brain injury
- Hemorrhagic stroke
- Chronic headaches
- Multiple sclerosis
- Parkinson’s disease
A brain MRI provides an in-depth look at the brain's structures, including the cerebrum, cerebellum, pituitary gland, ventricles, and brainstem. Neural and chemical networks connect these components, allowing them to function.
For sudden incidents, such as a traumatic brain injury or suspected hemorrhagic stroke, a CT scan is the best initial source of medical radiology imaging because it best shows blood. However, the CT scan may not show subtle findings like an MRI. An MRI of the brain is the imaging test most often used to detect and diagnose progressing symptoms such as chronic headaches and rule out a tumor.
How a Brain MRI Is Performed
We will ask for a complete history of any medical conditions and surgery you have had. If you have any metal in your body, such as metal fragments from trauma or surgery, let the scheduler and technologist know since this could affect the MRI. Certain planted devices aren’t compatible with an MRI. These include:
- Aneurysm clips
- Auditory hearing implants
- Internal wires or electrodes
- Implanted pumps or ports
- Surgical mesh
- Any coils, stents, or filters
Most older pacemakers and defibrillators are not safe with MRI, but many newer models are, so understanding what kind you have is important.
Other issues that may affect an MRI:
- Tattoos or piercings: Certain body or face/makeup tattooing or permanent piercings may prevent you from having an MRI. You must remove any jewelry and piercings for your safety.
- Current or prior metal worker: We may request an X-ray before performing the MRI as you could have small fragments in your eyes as an occupational hazard.
We sometimes use a contrast dye called gadolinium to get more detailed images of tissues. The dye used for an MRI is different from the dye used in a CT exam. Please let the scheduler and MRI technologist know if you have previously had an allergic reaction to a contrast agent. Most people do not have an issue.
MRI machines use magnets that make a loud, clunking sound during the exam. The technologists will provide you with headphones so you can listen to music and feel more comfortable. Many patients find this process soothing and fall asleep. Staying still during the exam is important since sudden movements may cause irregularities in the images.
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Frequently Asked Questions About Brain MRIs
A brain MRI is a diagnostic imaging test that uses a strong magnetic field and radio waves to create detailed brain images. For the exam, you will lie on a movable table, which will slide into a large tube-like machine. The technician will position your head and make sure you are comfortable. Sometimes, a contrast material may be injected into a vein in your arm. This substance helps to highlight certain areas of the brain and can provide more detailed images. You must remain as still as possible during the scan to avoid blurring the images.
After the procedure, a radiologist will review the images to interpret the results and provide a diagnosis. It is important to note that an MRI is a painless and non-invasive procedure without exposure to ionizing radiation.
MRI is generally considered to be a safe procedure for brain imaging. MRI uses a strong magnetic field and radio waves to create detailed images of the brain. While the magnetic field is strong, it is not harmful to the body as long as appropriate safety precautions are taken, such as screening patients for metal implants or objects that may be affected by the magnetic field.
However, some people may not be able to undergo an MRI due to certain medical conditions or devices, such as pacemakers, which may be affected by the magnetic field. It is important to inform your healthcare provider of any medical conditions or devices you may have before undergoing an MRI.
Brain MRIs can detect a wide range of brain conditions and abnormalities, including:
- Tumors: MRI can detect brain tumors, their size, location, and type.
- Stroke: MRI can help diagnose ischemic stroke and hemorrhagic stroke by identifying areas of brain tissue that are damaged or not getting enough blood supply.
- Multiple Sclerosis (MS): MRI can detect the presence and extent of MS lesions in the brain and spinal cord.
- Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI): MRI can reveal brain damage from a head injury, including bleeding, swelling, and contusions.
- Infections: MRI can detect brain infections, such as meningitis and encephalitis.
- Structural abnormalities: MRI can identify structural abnormalities in the brain, such as cysts, abnormalities in the blood vessels, and brain malformations.
- Neurodegenerative diseases: MRI can detect changes in the brain associated with Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and other neurodegenerative diseases.
- Hydrocephalus: MRI can detect the buildup of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain, which can cause pressure on the brain and lead to symptoms such as headaches, nausea, and dizziness.