Why Would A Neurologist Order An MRI Of The Brain?
An MRI scan will show a detailed image of your brain, spinal cord, nerve tissue, and more. A neurologist would order an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) of your brain if they suspect something is wrong, if they are diagnosing an issue, or if they want to monitor the development or treatment of an injury. Elective MRI scans (MRIs that your doctor did not recommend) are available if you are concerned with your health and want to take a proactive scan.
Your doctor needs multiple factors to diagnose an issue with your brain or inside your head. An MRI scan is the best scan to diagnose head problems. Ordering a brain MRI does not mean something is wrong; it simply means that your neurologist needs more information to create a treatment plan for you.
What Can A Head MRI Detect?
A head MRI scan can diagnose issues having to do with the brain, nerves of the brain, inflammation in the head, inner ear problems, and the spinal cord. In order to check for blood flow, you may need to get an MRI with contrast. What this means is that your radiologist will need to inject dyed intravenous fluid into both arms. Contrast is a gadolinium-based dye that will enhance the quality of the image and check the blood flow, volume, or supply in different areas of the body.
Getting an MRI scan with contrast can be helpful to your doctor in diagnosing a number of issues, but your doctor won’t order an MRI scan with contrast if they don’t think it is necessary. Contrast can be especially useful in diagnosing MS, discovering and monitoring cancer growth, and other soft tissue development problems, but it is important to note that any of these conditions can be spotted on an MRI scan without contrast as well. Be sure to ask your doctor why they have or haven’t ordered an MRI with contrast.
The following brain diagnoses are possible following a head MRI:
- Blood Clot
- Damage (associated with epilepsy)
- Tumors and cysts
- Causes of headaches and migraines
- Multiple sclerosis (MS)
- Alzheimer's (later stages)
- Hydrocephalus (water on the brain)
- Pituitary gland issues
- Traumatic brain injury
- Issues with brain development
- Inner ear problems
It is important to remember that just because your doctor has recommended you get a head MRI scan does not mean you 100% have one of these issues.
if you have any of the following symptoms, your doctor may recommend a head MRI scan:
- Have recently suffered a head injury
- Headaches when you sneeze or cough
- Confusion, numbness, or weakness
- Muscle weakness or tingling
- Changes in thinking or behavior
- Hearing loss
- Speaking or vision difficulties
- Pulsating feelings during headaches
- Headaches in the morning
- Constant headaches
- Extreme weakness and fatigue
If you experience any of these symptoms, it doesn't guarantee something is wrong.
How Do I Prepare For A Head MRI?
In the days preceding your scan, you can eat, drink, and medicate normally. On the day of your exam, try not to eat for the 3 hours before your exam. Let your doctor know if you have any metal in your body that cannot be removed: a pacemaker, aneurysm clips, a metal plate, staples, etc. You will be asked to fill out a patient history before your test. After your patient history is reviewed, further instructions may be provided based on your specific medical conditions.
Before your exam, remove any metal you may be wearing: hair clips, jewelry, watches, any clothing with buttons or zippers, hearing aids, or dentures. Try not to wear makeup to your exam as some makeup can have microscopic metallic pieces in it. You will be given a hospital gown to wear if your clothing has metal in or on it. Be sure to leave your credit cards with your clothing as they will be erased if they enter the MRI machine. If you are being sedated for your MRI or getting an MRI with contrast, be sure to arrive early for your exam.
What Happens During A Head MRI?
When you get an MRI of your head, you will lie on your back on the MRI bed that will slide into the donut-shaped magnet machine. When you are situated, your radiologist will secure a plastic head coil around your head. The head coil will enhance the clarity of your images as it interacts with the magnets in the MRI machine. Your MRI will likely take 30-60 minutes, during which it is essential that you lay completely still. The machine will make a series of loud noises during your scan, but you will be equipped with headphones or earplugs to ensure your comfort, as well as a blanket and even a washcloth to cover your eyes. At South Jersey Radiology Associates, your well-being is our highest priority – if you have any concerns or needs, please let your radiologist know.
Are There Any Side Effects Of A Head MRI?
There are no side effects from an MRI, although if you are getting an MRI with contrast or being sedated for your MRI, there could be side effects from getting an IV inserted. Most patients don’t experience side effects, but if you experience hives, itchiness, nausea or vomiting, or pain at the injection site, let your doctor know right away. If you have problems with your kidneys, let your doctor know as there might be problems with your body’s ability to break down the contrast material. If you are anxious about panicking during your scan, ask your doctor about sedation or anesthesia options. Do not self-medicate before your MRI. If you are being sedated for your scan, make sure you have someone to drive you home from your appointment.
Inside the MRI machine, there will be an intercom so that you can communicate with the radiologist during your procedure. There is also a panic button inside the machine in case you start to feel overwhelmed. Do not attempt to get out of the machine yourself, but let the bed slide out of the machine itself.
If you are claustrophobic, there are alternative types of MRI machinery that might work, or getting a CT scan could be another potential option (although there are plenty of ways to combat claustrophobia in an MRI).
What Should I Expect After A Head MRI?
When your scan is over, your radiologist will send your scan to your doctor. After your doctor analyzes your results, they will contact you for a follow-up appointment and potentially create a treatment plan for whatever result you’ve received.
Getting an abnormal result from your MRI scan is no reason to panic. 18% of MRI scans end with an abnormal result, which simply means that the head or brain is not perfectly healthy. An abnormal result could be anything from brain lesions to structural damage to inner ear problems. Your MRI scans might show white spots on your brain, which could be symptomatic of a number of issues: small strokes, MS, tumor, infection, migraines, lupus, B-12 deficiency, or brain lesions. Your doctor will schedule a follow-up appointment to discuss the results and address your concerns and condition.
No body scan is completely perfect and a head MRI is no different. There is a small possibility that you will get abnormal results or something could be missed by the radiologist who reads your scans. It is not a perfect scan, but there are many factors that go into diagnosing brain issues (aneurysms, brain lesions, tumors, etc.) and although an MRI can be an important one, it is not the only one.
What Are The Alternatives To A Head MRI?
If you are unable to get an MRI for some reason (claustrophobia, unremovable metal inside your body – pacemaker, clips, hearing aids, etc.), CT scans can serve as a fine alternative as they are able to detect brain tumors as well. Your doctor will likely recommend a head MRI first, though, because it is the clearest and most detailed scan of your brain compared to EEGs or CT scans. MRIs use magnets to capture images, while CT scans use ionizing radiation (which is minimal exposure to radiation that could increase the potential for cancer in some patients), making MRIs the safer option. For a scan of your head and brain, an MRI is a way to go. For scans of other parts of your body, make sure to ask your doctor about your imaging options, especially CT vs. MRI.
Without insurance, a brain CT is between $270 – $5000 while a brain MRI is between $1,600 – $8,750. Your MRI scan will likely be covered by your insurance if it has been recommended by your doctor. Your insurance would only deny your request if a different, cheaper scan could suffice (like a CT scan). The best way to save money on your MRI is to go to an independent radiology center to get your scan completed. MRIs cost up to 60% less at South Jersey Radiology compared to hospital facilities.
Getting a head MRI can be scary and stressful. At SJRA, our staff of professional and caring radiology specialists are ready to help alleviate your fear and nerves, as well as get you quality results quickly. Don’t wait – book your MRI appointment today at any of our following locations:
- Route 73 Office – Voorhees, NJ
- Greentree Office – Marlton, NJ
- Washington Township Office – Sewell, NJ
- Turnersville Office – Washington Township, NJ
- Voorhees Office – Voorhees, NJ
- West Deptford Office – West Deptford, NJ
Learn more about the board-certified sub-specialized Radiologists who read and interpret studies at SJRA here.