MRI Head and Brain Scan: A Definitive Guide of What to Expect
Head and brain MRI scans are one of the most commonly scanned parts of the body. 22 per cent of all MRI scans performed are of the head. An MRI scan is a powerful diagnostic tool that can identify trauma or abnormalities in the head and brain. There are several scenarios where you might need to have an MRI of your head or brain, including changes in behaviour, pain, or even blurred vision.
Although this is a common, routine procedure, the idea of having a diagnostic scan of such an important part of your body can be a little frightening. However, if you are armed with the knowledge of what to expect, it can make the idea of the procedure much less daunting. In this guide we will discuss how the procedure is performed, the structures the scan will identify, and how you can prepare for the procedure.
What does a Head MRI Show?
A Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) head scan is a non-invasive procedure meant to identify possible trauma or abnormalities. The scan works by taking images–called slices–as the MRI moves across three planes:
- Sagittal - From side to side
- Axial - From top to bottom
- Coronal - From front to back
By taking images across these different planes, the radiologist can build a detailed picture of the important structures in your brain. Including:
- Veins and Arteries
- Lateral Ventricles
- Third Ventricle
- Thalamus and Basal Ganglia
- Brain Lobes
- Cerebral Cortex
- Any additional soft tissues
This allows the radiologist to identify potential abnormalities that could be signs of degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s or trauma such as a concussion. Each part of the brain plays a different role in how we function. Therefore it’s important to accurately identify the area of potential damage to determine a correct diagnosis.
What is the purpose of a Head MRI?
The purpose of an MRI is to examine areas of your brain and surrounding bones, muscles, and other soft tissues. The results of the scan will be used to identify:
- Blood Clots or Brain Hemorrhages
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Swelling or Inflammation
- A buildup of Fluid in the Brain
The brain is a complex organ. In your wrist or knee, if you are experiencing a problem it typically comes in the form of pain or swelling in that particular area. However, your brain controls every aspect of your body. Therefore if you are experiencing an issue in your brain the symptoms can present themselves in a multitude of ways. For example, you may experience:
- Loss of Motor Function
- Difficulty Concentrating
- Hormonal Changes
- Blurred Vision
- Memory Loss
These symptoms could be a sign of a serious issue within your brain since each part is responsible for a different task. An MRI’s ability to produce images across three different angles gives the radiologist the ability to pinpoint which part of the brain is being affected and potentially causing your symptoms.
As with any medical diagnosis, early detection increases the chance of a successful treatment plan. Therefore if you are experiencing any concerning symptoms it’s important to talk to your doctor as soon as possible. If you require an MRI, you should consider going to a private MRI centre. At one of our MRI centres, you can receive an appointment up to 6 times faster than through the NHS.
How is a Head MRI Performed?
A head MRI is performed by a large machine with a hollow tube in the centre. The machine uses radio waves and a magnetic field to produce images of the brain and head. The procedure will take approximately 10–30 minutes to complete.
The following is a guide of what to expect during the procedure:
Remove Metal Objects and Change
You will be asked to remove any metal piercings or jewellery. Metal interacts with the MRI machine and will result in distorted images. Some clinics will allow you to wear your loose-fitting clothing. This is as long as the clothes provide access to the area being scanned and do not contain any metal fasteners. Some clinics will have you change into a hospital gown to ensure there is no clothing interference with the machine.
Brought into MRI Room and Positioned on the MRI Table
You will be brought to the MRI room and asked to lay down on the MRI table. The radiographer may use straps or fasteners to ensure your head is in the correct position to be scanned. Once you are secure, the technician will move to a separate room and this table will slide you into the machine to perform the scan of your head.
Get Contrast IV
Depending on what your doctor has ordered, you may need to have a contrast IV administered. This IV will be inserted into your hand or wrist and will inject you with contrast material, such as iodine, that will allow the radiologist to better see the structures within your head and brain. This is a safe procedure, and an allergic reaction occurring is rare. You will feel a warm sensation running through your body. This is a normal reaction and the sensation will slowly fade away.
It’s important to stay perfectly still. Any movement can cause the scan to produce blurred images and will need to be repeated. The machine will make loud banging noises, this is to be expected. Try to stay as still and relaxed as possible. The table may slide you in and out of the machine several times depending on the scan being done and how the quality of the images turn out.
The radiographer may ask you to hold your breath to ensure they can capture an accurate scan. The technician will be guiding you through the process, If you become uncomfortable at any point during the scan simply let them know.
It is common to wait a few minutes after the last scan, while the technician assesses how the images turned out.
Have Contrast IV removed
Once the scan is complete the contrast IV, if used, will be removed. There is nothing additional you need to do at this point. Take your time getting up as you may feel a little dizzy as you stand up. The technician will bring you back to a private room where you will be able to change. Once a radiologist has examined the scan, they will send the results to your doctor to discuss with you.
How to prepare for a Head MRI procedure?
The preparation for a head MRI procedure is simple. This is typically not an exam that requires you to fast beforehand unless instructed otherwise. When you arrive at the centre you will be asked about your medical history. It is important to inform the team if you have any of the following:
- Pacemaker or Defibrillator
- Cochlear implants–inner ear implants
- Allergies to Medication or Contrast Material
- Artificial Joints
- Artificial Heart Valves
These can affect how the MRI procedure can safely be performed. Therefore it is important to disclose your medical history, even if you may not think it is relevant. The technician should know more information than less. There have been many strides in MRI technology, and those with these conditions can usually still have the procedure. However, they require additional precautions and potentially different techniques to perform the scan.
What is the recovery period after a Head MRI scan?
Since the MRI is a diagnostic scan, there is no downtime after the procedure is complete. If you have taken a sedative before the scan, it will take time to wear off. Therefore you cannot drive a vehicle for a few hours.
Most patients can change and go about their everyday activities. In the meantime, a radiologist will examine the images from your scan, send the report to your doctor, and your doctor will contact you to discuss the results.
It can be frightening to think of a problem inside your brain. For this reason, you might want to avoid a head and brain scan altogether. But having an MRI of your head is the first step in diagnosing a potentially life-threatening condition. An early diagnosis can help increase your chances of making a recovery.
If you need a head and brain MRI scan, skip the NHS wait times and book an appointment at one of our MRI centres. Or if you would like additional information about this diagnostic procedure, contact us, and we will be happy to answer any of your questions.