Why would a Neurologist Order an MRI of the Brain?

This article will answer the question “Why would a neurologist order an MRI of the brain?” The article will also answer who a neurologist is and when you should see a neurologist and the tools they use apart from MRI to study the brain. In the end, the article will also answer some frequently asked questions.

Why would a Neurologist Order an MRI of the Brain?

A neurologist may order an MRI of the brain if they want to diagnose stroke, traumatic brain injury, brain and spinal cord tumours, inflammation of arteries or brain nerves, irregularities of vascular functioning of the brain, or any brain damage that could be due to epilepsy, any abnormally developed brain areas or structures, and if there is any presence of a neurodegenerative disorder. 

MRIs are also used to diagnose as well as monitor the escalation of disorders such as multiple sclerosis (Hashemi et al., 2012).

Who is a Neurologist?

Neurologists are specialised physicians who look into the non-surgical management of several nervous system disorders for both the central and peripheral nervous systems. If you’re into surgeries, neurosurgery is the speciality that you should be looking into. 

Neurologists are responsible for managing all neurological problems ranging from headaches, and migraines, to more catastrophic diseases like Alzheimer’s disease, Huntington’s disease, Strokes, and Multiple Sclerosis (MS). 

It is widely believed neurologists are involved more in the diagnoses of conditions and don’t play a big role in the treatment for the same. There are various conditions that have not progressed much when it comes to modern medicines. However, there has been tremendous growth in the research of neurological conditions and therapies for the same are increasing in number. 

A neurosurgeon assesses, diagnoses and treats conditions that affect your body’s nervous system, which includes your brain, spinal cord and spinal column, and all of your nerves that extend from your spinal cord.

Neurologists work along with neurosurgeons to help carry out and interpret tests required for brain disorders. Neurologists help family members and provide support. 

What is an MRI?

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) uses magnetic and radio waves to generate high-quality pictures of the brain, especially soft tissues. The images are highly detailed.

Because you need to remain still under the MRI machine, children who have been ordered to do an MRI test may be sedated during it. MRI, however, is not the only tool to study the brain. Other tools used by neurologists to understand the brain include:

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI)

One of the most recent forms of neuroimaging technique was discovered in the 1990s. This has relatively become the most used and dominant technique due to its lack of radiation exposure, wide availability and low invasiveness. 

Several neural activities in the brain lead to metabolic activities such as the oxygen supply to the local vasculature and increased blood flow to the brain. 

There are several techniques that are used to detect several changes in metabolic activities that including fMRI, blood-oxygen-level-dependent (BOLD) fMRI, and perfusion fMRI. 

The fMRI is an indicator of neural activity that detects the amount of blood flow in each brain region. The images are taken in the form of cross-sectional “slices” that are obtained as the magnetic field is passed across the brain. These images in the form of slices are taken at a rapid rate and are imposed on images of the brain structure. These show how brain activities change over time. 

The advantage of fMRI is that it is non-invasive. The images collected via the scanner can reveal which parts of the brain are associated with which type of other tasks, this was found while studying the participant’s behaviour  (e.g., while they were playing a game with another person). 

The procedure beings when the research participant simply enters the machine and the scans begin. There are several advantages of the fRMIs, in recent days, is now the most commonly used method of learning about brain structure hence, many university and hospital settings, have accommodated this. 

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS)

Another approach to better understands the brain and which has been more frequently implemented to understand brain function is the Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) procedure. In this procedure, magnetic pulses are applied to the brain of a living person. 

Near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS)

Near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) is a non-invasive technology that continuously monitors regional tissue oxygenation. It was originally used to assess the oxygen saturation of the brain. However, over a period of time, it has been used in the evaluation of oxygenation of tissues other than the brain. 

Magnetoencephalography (MEG)

Magnetoencephalography (MEG) is a non-invasive medical test. This test maps the function of the brain and identifies the location and the source of epileptic seizures. This test measures the magnetic fields that are produced by the brain’s electrical currents. It is also used to map the various other functions of the brain such as the centre of the sensory, motor, language and memory activities.

Positron Emission Tomography (PET)

A positron emission tomography (PET) scan is a type of imaging test that can help understand and reveal the biochemical function of your tissues and organs, as well as the metabolic activities of the brain. This test uses

a radioactive drug (tracer) and also shows both normal and abnormal metabolic activity. 

This type of test also detects the abnormal metabolism of the tracer in diseases before the disease is more prominent in other tests such as computerized tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Computed Tomography (CT)

This is a computerised x-ray imaging procedure in which a narrow beam of x-rays is aimed at a patient and quickly rotated around the body. This produces signals that are then further processed by the machine’s computer to generate cross-sectional images, or “slices.” 

These are called tomographic images and give the clinician better and more detailed information than conventional x-rays. To form a three-dimensional (3D) image of the patient, these slices are collected by the machine’s computer, they are digitally “stacked” together to form a three-dimensional (3D) image of the patient. This allows the physician to identify potential tumours as well as other abnormalities at an early stage. 

When should I visit a Neurologist?

It is a good time to see a neurologist if you have the following symptoms:

Dizziness

If you feel like your head is spinning (vertigo) or that you have difficulty keeping your balance intact, it could be a sign of a serious underlying condition.

Numbness or tingling

If numbness or tingling, especially if it is occurring only on one side of the body, it could be an early sign of a stroke or another serious condition. If the numbness occurs suddenly, it is best to book an appointment with a neurologist.

Movement problems

If you have difficulty in walking, shuffling your feet, or there are tremors and unintentional jerks in your muscles, it could all point to problems in the nervous system.

Memory problems

If you notice your memory worsening, your personality changing, and you keep mixing up words then it could be early signs of Alzheimer’s disease.

Chronic or severe headaches

Getting migraine headaches is a reason enough to make an appointment with a neurologist. This should, however, be especially done if the symptoms are associated with a particular neurological deficit.

Chronic pain

When you experience chronic pain that cannot be ruled out or managed by your physician, it is time to see a neurologist as it can be due to other underlying problems.

Conclusion

This article answers the question “Why would a neurologist order an MRI of the brain?” The article also answers who a neurologist is and when you should see a neurologist and the tools they use apart from MRI to study the brain. In the end, the article will also answer some frequently asked questions.

Frequently Asked Questions: Why would a Neurologist Order an MRI of the Brain?

Who is a neurosurgeon? 

Neurosurgeons are doctors that diagnose and treat problems in the brain, spine, and nervous system. These can be treated through non-surgical or surgical methods on the basis of the type and severity of the injury or disease.

What is neuroimaging used for?

Current neuroimaging techniques reveal the interconnections as well as the integrity of the brain structures. They are also used to understand chemistry, physiology, and electrical and metabolic activity.

What’s the difference between fMRI and MRI?

The fMRI looks at the function of the brain, whereas the MRI allows the physicians to examine the patient’s organs, tissue, or bones.

References

Hashemi, R. H., Bradley, W. G., & Lisanti, C. J. (2012). MRI: the basics: The Basics. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

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