Skip to content

    Migraines & Headaches Health Center

    Font Size
    A
    A
    A

    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.

    Recommended Related to Migraines/Headaches

    Use Preventive Meds

    If migraines are frequent or interfere with your life, it is time to discuss prevention with your doctor. Preventive medications can help stop migraines or reduce their intensity. See if they might help you. Conditions: Migraine Symptoms: headaches, migraine, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, aching, pain, pain with movement, throbbing pain, aura, light sensitivity, noise sensitivity, vision changes, fainting, lightheadedness, sweating a lot, neck stiffness, irritability, restlessness, back...

    Read the Use Preventive Meds article > >

    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)

    Today on WebMD

    Business woman with hand on face and eyes closed
    What aura looks like, triggers, and more.
    woman with migraine
    Get the truth about migraines.
     
    headache in the bedroom
    Keep headaches from ruining your sex life.
    woman with hands on head
    Test your knowledge of triggers, types, and more.
     
    woman with migraine
    Quiz
    drinking coffee
    Article
     
    Migraines Headaches Basics
    Article
    acupuncture needles in woman's back
    Slideshow
     
    Tired young man
    Slideshow
    spraying perfume
    Article
     
    man with a headache
    Article
    headache in the bedroom
    Article