MRI scans are frequently used to evaluate the internal structures of the brain. Brain MRIs are not only used to discover tumors, infection and chronic diseases but also are now increasingly used in acute settings to look for bleeds and stroke.
Brain MRIs are typically ordered for many different symptoms to exclude a tumor, aneurysm or unusual infection and as a follow up for stroke, surgery, etc. Below are a few common diagnoses that brain MRIs can pick up.
Aneurysm - Aneurysms are ballooning of vessels that risk rupturing. If blood leaks from the aneurysm patients describe the headache as a thunderclap and sharp/shooting pains. Patients can also have stroke-like symptoms with weakness, slurred speech and confusion. These MRI scans are usually done without contrast but also with an MRA which gets a more detailed look at the vessels of the brain.
Tumor - Tumors can be primary (from brain tissue) or secondary (from other sites, eg breast cancer). These typically present with headaches, weakness, and seizures. These MRI scans are done with contrast to help highlight and characterize the tumor.
Infection - Brain infections present with headaches, fever, stiff neck (meningitis). Some infections can be chronic such as tuberculosis (Tb). If looking for infection the MRI is typically done with contrast.
Stroke - Also known as a "brain attack", stroke refers to a blocked artery that deprives a part of the brain of blood (and therefore oxygen). This part of the brain loses it function and patients present with weakness, slurred speech, difficulty walking and on occasion, headaches.
An MRI of the brain will evaluate:
A brain MRI will include parts of the sinuses. Though not used to primarily look for sinus disease, an MRI can see thickening of the sinus tissue (mucosa) or fluid in the sinuses.
Brain MRIs include the orbits but are not tailored to specficially look at the orbits. This requires a dedicated Orbit MRI which uses different sequences (sequence is a type of image) to look at the internal structures of the orbits. Nevertheless, it can pick up some disease of the orbits such as large tumors, bleeds, inflammation, etc.
The skull is included in a Brain MRI and can detect bone tumors, infection and large fractures. It can also detect bleeds in the space between the skull and brain (aka epidural and subdural bleeds).
The white and gray matter of the brain are well seen. MRI can detect tumors, infection, bleeds, stroke and congenital defects. Part of the pituitary gland, optic nerves and upper brainstem are also evaluated. A "routine" brain MRI is done without contrast.
These are the fluid filled structures inside the brain that help circulate cerberospinal fluid. Tumors and bleeds can extend into these structures and cause blockage which can lead to headaches, confusion and problems with walking for example.
Your Brain MRI Scan
A brain MRI generally takes about 20 minutes or so to complete. If you are going for one, wear loose comfortable clothing and remember to remove all metal (jewelry, phones, rings, etc) before going into the MRI scan room. If you've had surgery or have a history of cancer, you'll probably have the test done with IV MRI contrast.
If you're insured, you may need to have your test authorized (approved) by your insurance company first. If you're uninsured and need to look up prices and buy an MRI scan of the brain, you can use our website to look up MRI scan costs and then purchase with your credit card.
Have you had a Brain MRI scan? What was it like? Please leave your comments below.