MRA stands for Magnetic Resonance Angiography.
It is an MRI technique that specifically evaluates vessels such as
arteries. Carotid MRAs evaluate the vessels of the neck to look for
aneurysms, vascular tumors, narrowing and blockage
of the vessels of the neck, among others.
Carotid MRAs are typically ordered for the evaluation of stroke to detect blockages and narrowing of the arteries in the neck that ultimately supply the brain. Symptoms related to stroke include:
- sudden speech difficulties
- confusion, erratic behavior
- vertigo, dizziness
- pain, tingling
MRAs can diagnose:
Plaque - Carotid MRAs can detect plaque deposits that overtime can narrow the opening of the vessel leading to reduced blood flow to the brain. Some plaque can abruptly "tear" off sending bits of plaque up into the brain, blocking small vessels. Sometimes these tiny blockages can be completely unnoticed and other times cause the symptoms of stroke. In some cases the vessel can narrow to a point and cause a rushing sound in the neck called a "bruit." The sound is blood trying to get through the narrow opening. Carotid MRAs can also pick up complete blockages of these vessels as well.
Dissection - This refers to a tear in the wall of the vessel. Think of it as a tear of the inner lining of the sleeve of a jacket. If you filled the inner lining of your jacket with down it would block the real opening for your arm. In the artery the blood goes into the opening of the tear of the dissection, expands the false channel, potentially blocking the flow of blood to the brain and resulting in stroke like symptoms.
Aneurysms and Vascular Tumors - Aneurysms are ballooning of the vessels that can either disturb normal blood flow or by their shape and size press on nearby tissues and cause related symptoms such as neck pain, pressure, nerve blockage, etc. Vascular tumors may be picked as the vessels that feed them are large enough to be seen on the MRA.
An MRA of the carotids will evaluate:
Internal Carotid Arteries
carotid vessels arise from the aorta in the chest and travel up the
neck along both sides. The vessels splits in the neck with the
"internal" segments feeding roughly the front 2/3 of brain tissue. The "external" segments feed the face and parts of the scalp and skull.
Vereberal and Basilar Arteries
basilar artery is made up by two vertebral arteries which arise from
vessels in the chest and travel up along both sides of the neck near
the spine. This vessel feeds the brain stem and approximately the back
1/3 of the brain.
This is the large vessel which arises from your heart. The top of the vessel has three large arteries which supply blood to the arms, upper chest, neck and brain.
Neck soft tissues
Parts of the soft tissues of the neck are seen in a Carotid MRA. Occasionally large tumors, unusual inflammation or other findings can be picked up.
Your Carotid MRA Scan
A Carotid MRA generally takes about 10 to 15 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. This test is occasionally 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 MRA scan of the carotids, you can use our website to look up MRA scan costs and then purchase with your credit card.
Have you had a Carotid MRA scan? What was it like? Please leave your comments below.