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    Can an MRI Help Diagnose Migraines and Headaches?

    An MRI is a test that makes clear images of the brain without the use of X-rays. Instead, it uses a large magnet, radio waves, and a computer to produce these pictures.

    The scan can give doctors information about the structure and chemicals of the brain to help them find the cause of your headaches.

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    Understanding Headache -- the Basics

    Although painful and troublesome, most headaches are minor and can be easily treated with aspirin or another pain reliever. (Do not use aspirin in anyone under age 19 because it may increase the risk for Reye's syndrome, a potentially fatal disease.) But if your headaches are severe, recur frequently, or are accompanied by other symptoms, you need to see a health care provider. Headaches are categorized according to their underlying causes. Common types of headaches include: Tension headaches...

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    When Would I Need an MRI to Diagnose My Headaches?

    Your doctor might recommend one if you're getting headaches daily or almost every day. You might also get one if you had a CT scan that didn’t show clear-cut results.

    MRI scans also can look at parts of the brain that aren't as easily viewed with CT scans, such as the spine at the level of the neck and the back portion of the brain. An MRI can’t diagnose migraines, cluster, or tension headaches, but it can help doctors rule out other medical conditions that may cause your symptoms, such as:

    • A brain tumor
    • An infection in your brain, called an abscess
    • The buildup of fluid in the brain, called hydrocephalus
    • Spinal cord problems, such as a herniated disc
    • Strokes
    • Injuries

    Is It Safe?

    Yes. The MRI exam poses no risk to the average person.

    The scan is also safe for people who've had heart surgery and people who have these medical devices:

    • Surgical clips or sutures
    • Artificial joints
    • Staples
    • Cardiac valve replacements (except the Starr-Edwards metallic ball/cage)
    • Disconnected medication pumps
    • Vena cava filters
    • Brain shunt tubes for hydrocephalus

    Some things may mean you shouldn’t have an MRI. Tell your doctor if you:

    • Have a heart pacemaker
    • A cerebral aneurysm clip (metal clip on a blood vessel in your brain)
    • Are pregnant
    • Have an implanted insulin pump (for treatment of diabetes), narcotics pump (for pain medication), or implanted nerve stimulators
    • "TENS" device for back pain
    • Metal in your eye or eye socket
    • Cochlear (ear) implant for hearing problems
    • Implanted spine stabilization rods
    • Severe lung disease (such as tracheomalacia or bronchopulmonary dysplasia)
    • Gastroesophageal reflux (GERD)
    • Weigh more than 300 pounds
    • Have trouble lying on your back for 30 to 60 minutes
    • Claustrophobia (fear of closed or narrow spaces)

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