A head and brain MRI is a brain scan used to check for injuries or diagnose diseases in the brain and surrounding tissues. It's a noninvasive outpatient procedure, which means no medical equipment enters the body, and the patient does not have to be admitted to the hospital. There are no fasting requirements for a head MRI. Patients can eat and drink as they would normally before the procedure, and continue taking their usual medications and supplements. Patients can expect to spend 30 to 60 minutes in an MRI machine. While the test is painless, the machine’s loud noise and enclosed environment may induce anxiety for some people.
A head MRI produces detailed two- and three-dimensional images of the brain, brain stem, and pituitary gland without the use of radioactive substances. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) uses radio waves and magnetic fields to depict the internal structures of these organs and tissues. MRI images of the brain can reveal even small abnormalities in the cranial region, helping providers diagnose a wide variety of conditions, ranging from brain swelling, trauma, tumors, cysts, or spinal cord injuries.
During an MRI of the head, the patient is positioned in an MRI scanner. The scanner is then subjected to a strong magnetic field. This magnetic field realigns the body’s hydrogen protons, which emit energy as they move back to their original position. The MRI machine records this energy, transforming it into images of the brain and surrounding areas. MRIs are excellent at capturing soft tissue. Since your brain is composed mostly of water and fat, MRIs are the most effective type of brain scan for providing soft tissue detail.
The detailed reconstructions of soft tissue provided by an MRI can reveal aneurysms, swelling, hemorrhages, cysts and tumors, spinal cord injuries, evidence of stroke, among myriad other conditions and diseases. These abnormalities may not be as visible or clear using other types of imaging, which could lead to a misdiagnosis or a general lack of detection.
For the most part, you don't need to do anything out of the ordinary to prepare for a brain MRI. You can continue your normal diet and medications as you get ready for your brain scan. For an MRI that scans other parts of the body, such as the abdomen, you may be asked to fast for up to 8 hours before the procedure. However, preparation for a head MRI is minimal. Medical staff will ask you to remove all metal objects from your body, including piercings, metal clasps or belts, and coins or pens that may be in your pocket, as metal can interfere with the clarity of the image. In some cases, your provider will order an MRI with contrast. This means you will be injected with a gadolinium-based dye that will create a more detailed view of inflammation or blood flow.
Generally, time spent in a brain MRI machine will range from 30-60 minutes. An MRI with contrast will take a little bit longer, due to the additional time needed to intravenously inject the dye. MRIs with contrast still usually take only 45-80 minutes.
Like any medical procedure, brain MRI costs can vary. The average cost for an MRI in the U.S. is a little over $1,300. Patients with full-coverage insurance might pay as little as $500, while underinsured and uninsured patients can expect to pay up to $5,000. An MRI of the head and neck costs a little over $300 when booked through Tripment Health.
Typically, the results from a brain MRI will be read by a radiologist within 24-48 hours after the scan is complete. The radiologist then sends the results to your provider to discuss with you. However, a few factors come into play when determining how quickly the patient will receive those results. The complexity of the images and the urgency of the condition can both impact how long it takes for images and analysis to be sent to your provider. Timing can also be a consideration, such as whether the MRI took place right before a weekend or holiday, when physicians’ offices may be closed.
If you’re exhibiting any sort of “red-flag” symptoms of brain injury or brain conditions, or are in a high-risk group for these types of conditions, you’ll have no problem getting a referral for an MRI from your provider. If you don’t have a regular provider and need an MRI, you can get a physician referral through Tripment Health.
Tripment Health provides a simple, hassle-free platform for finding diagnostic imaging services near you. You can compare prices and imaging center reviews in a matter of minutes, and filter your search based on location and availability. Regardless of why you need an MRI of your brain, you can start your search and have a scan scheduled in no time at all through Tripment.com.
There are dozens of reasons your provider might want you to get a brain MRI. The effects of traumatic brain injuries (TBI), such as concussions, should be viewed as soon as possible after the event to screen for bleeding or swelling. Aneurysms and hemorrhages can be detected through MRIs, which could potentially prevent a stroke. Abnormal growths like cysts and tumors appear on brain scans, as well as evidence of multiple sclerosis and spinal cord disorders. Even some types of mental illness can diagnosed from analyzing brain activity scans.
A brain MRI without contrast typically takes 30-60 minutes from start to finish. Adding contrast will take a little bit longer, due to the additional time needed to intravenously inject the dye. MRIs with contrast still usually take only 45-80 minutes.
Side effects of an MRI scan of the brain are very minimal. The machines can be pretty noisy, and it’s possible that some patients might experience headaches from the sound. It can also induce claustrophobia for some people, which could feasibly cause a stress headache. However, the machine itself does not touch the head, or do anything to directly cause pain or discomfort.
Yes — an MRI is an ideal way to detect inflammation in the brain. Inflammation causes lesions and erosion in soft tissues, which are visible in an MRI scan.
You can go about your normal routine before an MRI of the brain, and continue with your regular eating schedule. The only time your doctor may ask you to refrain from eating before an MRI is if the scan should include imaging of your abdomen.