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Diagnosing Migraines and Headaches With MRI

MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) is a test that produces very clear images of the brain without the use of X-rays. MRI uses a large magnet, radio waves, and a computer to produce these images. An MRI scan can provide information about the structure and biochemistry of the brain in hopes of finding the cause or causes of migraines or headaches.

Why Is MRI Used to Evaluate Headaches?

An MRI scan may be recommended if you are getting daily or almost daily headaches. MRI may also be recommended if a CT scan does not show definitive results. In addition, an MRI scan is used to evaluate certain parts of the brain that are not 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 scan is not able to diagnose migraines, cluster, or tension headaches; however, it is able to rule out other medical conditions, such as:

Is MRI Scan Safe?

Yes. The MRI exam poses no risk to the average person if appropriate safety guidelines are followed.

People who have had heart surgery and people with the following medical devices can be safely examined with MRI:

  1. Surgical clips or sutures
  2. Artificial joints
  3. Staples
  4. Cardiac valve replacements (except the Starr-Edwards metallic ball/cage)
  5. Disconnected medication pumps
  6. Vena cava filters
  7. Brain shunt tubes for hydrocephalus

Some conditions may make an MRI exam inadvisable. Tell your doctor if you have any of the following:

  1. Heart pacemaker
  2. Cerebral aneurysm clip (metal clip on a blood vessel in the brain)
  3. Are pregnant
  4. Implanted insulin pump (for treatment of diabetes), narcotics pump (for pain medication), or implanted nerve stimulators
  5. "TENS" device for back pain
  6. Metal in the eye or eye socket
  7. Cochlear (ear) implant for hearing impairment
  8. Implanted spine stabilization rods
  9. Severe lung disease (such as tracheomalacia or bronchopulmonary dysplasia)
  10. Gastroesophageal reflux (GERD)
  11. Weigh more than 300 pounds
  12. Not able to lie on back for 30 to 60 minutes
  13. Claustrophobia (fear of closed or narrow spaces)

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