Brain Scanning (MRI Brain Scan)

Magnetic Resonance Imaging or MRI is among the leading brain scanning technologies being used today, particularly for the identification of neurological disorders. An MRI scanning is essentially a process of creating computerized images reflecting the brain’s structural and functional composition. During MRI scanning, a precise volume of radio waves in coordination with a powerful magnetic field are used for producing highly detailed images. MRI is one of the most commonly recommended diagnostic tool in the niche of neurological diseases since it helps to understand any abnormalities in the brain or spinal cords’ functioning such as the problems in the conduction of impulses along the neurological pathway due to neuropathies, tumors or inflammations. MRI is also capable of detecting the onset/presence of degenerative neurological disorders like Multiple Sclerosis apart from mapping neurological problems arising due to injury/trauma.

Understanding MRI Brain Scan

MRI scanning equipment usually includes a hollow, cylindrical tube-like structure that is surrounded by an industrial-sized magnet. The patient is made to lie on a special kind of mobile table that is slid within this tube-like structure. The patient is not allowed to wear any kind of metallic object since metal can interfere with magnetic fields, derailing the results of the MRI process. The magnetic field produced during MRI scanning is so strong that it temporarily causes realignment of water molecules within the bodily tissues. Radio-waves are passed through the bodily tissues and mapped in such a manner that they can detect any relaxation of water molecules or any random or unusual alignment patterns in the realignment of such molecules.

Delving Deeper into MRI Brain Scanning

A computerized function controls the strength of the magnetic field and that of radio waves that should be directed at the patient. The resonance created by the radio waves is captured in the form of 3-dimensional or 2-dimensional images that are essentially a representation of various parts of the brain’s tissue. In some forms of MRI scanning, contrasting dyes are used that helps to raise the degree of visibility of brain tissues. During MRI scanning, the patient might hear some gyrating or knocking sounds that are created due to the strong magnetic field.

Preference for MRI Brain Scan

The MRI machine looks a bit similar to the PET scanner but it has additional feature, i.e. the ability to produce a magnetic field. As compared to PET scanning or CT scanning, MRI is preferred since it doesn't use radioactive agents (called tracers) or ionizing radiation for creating the images. Though PET and CT too don’t pose any threat to the health of the patient being tested, MRI seems to be the preferred choice in terms of offering more safety for the psychological comfort of the patient and his family.

MRI Brain Scanning is undemanding for the patient and usually takes about 40 minutes to an hour. The entire process is painless but it is found to be a limited in terms of providing detailed images. This is because the standard MRI testing machines are not available across all healthcare facilities and the lesser-developed MRI machines cannot offer the required level of image clarity. The only risk associated with MRI brain scanning is among patients who have implanted medical devices. Such devices often contain metallic components and under extremely strong magnetic field, their position can get altered.

Advanced Forms of MRI Brain Scan—fMRI

New advances in the niche of MRI scanning include Functional MRI—fMRI that uses magnetic properties of blood for producing real-time images that help to diagnose neurological disorders.

It should be understood that hydrogen is major component of water and water is a major constituent of all bodily tissues, including the area within the skull. The presence of large concentration of water molecules in blood means the presence of high volumes of hydrogen atoms—these atoms produce small pulses of energy when subjected to a strong magnetic field. This energy is reflected in increase in the rate and volume of blood-flow that is an indicator of brain activity—this is how MRI scanning is also used for evaluating the brain activity.

This is why fMRI is capable of pinpointing any areas in the brain that that are inactive and those that are abnormally hyperactive. It can even hint if the brain activity is happening as per a sequential pattern or in sudden spurts. Such MRI imaging is very useful for diagnosing brain damage and degenerative neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s and Multiple Sclerosis (MS).