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Multiple Sclerosis MRI Scan

Having Multiple Sclerosis (MS) can be a difficult diagnosis to cope with. It is a complex neurological condition that affects the central nervous system of millions around the world., and can have lasting effects on your physical, mental and emotional health. To understand the extent of the disease, it is essential to undergo an MRI scan.

An MRI scan uses powerful magnets and radio waves to produce detailed images of the brain and spinal cord. The results provide clear indications of any lesions or damage associated with MS.

Although the process of an MRI scan is painless and noninvasive, the preparation involved can be time-consuming. You may have to refrain from eating or drinking for up to four hours before your appointment. Depending on where you go and what type of scanner is being used, you may need to wear a special neck collar or protective garment during the scan.

Let’s go deeper into the process of having an MRI scan for MS.

How Does a Multiple Sclerosis MRI Work? 


Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans are commonly used by healthcare professionals when diagnosing Multiple Sclerosis (MS). On an MRI scan, MS activity can be identified as either bright or dark spots. These spots tend to be oval or framed in shape and can appear in both the brain’s white and grey matter.

In order to improve image quality, a chemical contrast dye known as gadolinium may be injected into a person’s vein prior to their MRI scan, and this helps to improve the brightness of the scan images.

During an MS MRI scan, you will lie on a table while a special machine scans your body with powerful magnets and radio waves. The machine will produce detailed images that allow your doctor to examine the structure of your brain or spinal cord for any abnormalities related to multiple sclerosis.

The MRI machine is able to identify the demyelinated parts of nerve cells. The presence of such lesions is indicative of the presence and progression of MS over time. In technical terms, these lesions can be categorized as hyperintense, hypointense or isointense based on their appearance on a T2 or FLAIR sequence.

 The scan typically takes between 15 to 90 minutes, depending on the type of scan being performed and how many images are needed. Depending on the results of this scan, your doctor may order additional tests or recommend a treatment plan for managing your symptoms. 

Why Might You Need a Multiple Sclerosis MRI?


Your doctor may recommend an MRI if they suspect that you have Multiple Sclerosis. An MRI can help provide a better understanding of the extent and progression of your MS by detecting areas of demyelination in the brain or spinal cord.

Here are some reasons why you might need an MS MRI:

  • To diagnose MS in the early stages

  • To monitor the progression of MS and track changes over time

  • To identify any new or worsening areas of damage caused by MS

  • To help rule out other conditions that have similar symptoms to Multiple Sclerosis

  • Your doctor may also suggest an MRI to help inform a treatment plan.

By obtaining detailed images of your brain and spinal cord, they can get an accurate picture of what’s happening and make informed decisions about how best to manage your condition.

Having a Multiple Sclerosis MRI scan is an important part of understanding the impact MS has on your body. Although there may be some preparation involved, the process itself is painless and noninvasive. The results of your scan can help you and your doctor determines the best course of action for managing your symptoms.

    How to Prepare for Your Multiple Sclerosis MRI?


    The tight compartments and darkened atmosphere of traditional MRI scanners may trigger overwhelming sensations of confinement. Thankfully, the more modern machines come equipped with larger openings and improved lighting, plus the tube itself is open at both ends to lessen claustrophobic symptoms. Nevertheless, even the newest models can cause anxiety in some people.

    To make this experience better for everyone involved, what are effective ways to prepare during an MRI?

    1. Ask Questions

    Before the scan, make sure to ask your doctor any questions you may have about the procedure. This will help give you peace of mind and may even ease some of your anxiety.

    2. Wear Comfortable Clothing

    Make sure to wear comfortable clothing that doesn’t contain metal, as metal objects can interfere with the MRI. If you have tattoo inks within your body, you should let your doctor and the technician know prior to the scan.

    3. Follow All Pre-Scan Instructions

    Following pre-scan instructions, such as fasting and avoiding caffeine before your appointment, can ensure that the scan process runs smoothly. Fasting and avoiding certain medications may be necessary, and these instructions should be given to you by your doctor prior to the appointment.

    4. Bring a Friend or Family Member

    Bringing a friend or family member to the appointment can help reduce stress and make your experience more pleasant. Patients often see a benefit from having someone familiar in the room with them during the scan.

    5. Take a Sedative, if Needed

    If your doctor determines that you need a sedative prior to the MRI, make sure to follow their instructions carefully. Taking a sedative can help reduce anxiety and make the experience more comfortable for you.

    6. Ask for Earplugs and Noise-Cancelling Headphones

    The loud noises that are associated with an MRI can be overwhelming, and earplugs or noise-cancelling headphones may help to reduce the sound. Ask your doctor if these items are available prior to your appointment.

    7. Try Relaxation Techniques

    Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, visualization, and meditation can help to reduce stress before and during the MRI. Practising these techniques prior to your appointment may be beneficial.

    8. Speak Up

    If you feel overwhelmed during the scan, let your doctor or technician know. They can take steps to make the process more comfortable for you. Remember, your health and safety are their top priority.

    9. Close Your Eyes and Visualise

    During the scan, focus on your breathing and visualise a peaceful place. This can help you to relax and stay calm during the procedure. Claustrophobic symptoms can be distressing, but focusing on a calming image or object can help you to stay in control.

    By following these tips, you can make the experience of having an MRI for multiple sclerosis more pleasant and stress-free. Remember to ask your doctor any questions that may arise prior to your appointment, and don’t hesitate to speak up if you are feeling overwhelmed during the scan.

    What to Expect from an MRI scan of your Multiple Sclerosis?

    During the Scan

    The scan itself will take around 30 minutes, depending on the type and details of the scan being performed. You will be asked to lie down on a table and remain still throughout the entire duration of the scan in order for it to be successful and accurate. During this time, you may feel a slight vibration or hear a buzzing sound as the MRI machine works. It is important that you stay as still as possible and try not to move so that the images are clear and precise. Additionally, oxygen tubes and headphones may be provided for your comfort during the scan. 

    After the Scan

    Once the scan is complete, you should be able to go home immediately following your appointment. It typically takes 1-2 weeks for test results to come back from the radiologist who reads your scans unless they are needed urgently. If any abnormalities are found during the process, they will be discussed with you by your doctor, who recommended the MRI in order to further understand how best to treat your MS symptoms moving forward. 

    What are the Benefits of an MRI scan for Multiple Sclerosis?


    1. Accurate Diagnosis

    An MRI scan can help detect lesions in the brain and spinal cord that may be indicative of MS. This can aid in diagnosing primary progressive Multiple Sclerosis early on, and earlier diagnosis means that treatment can be started sooner, potentially providing better long-term outcomes. 

    2. Monitoring Disease Progression

    An MRI scan is also helpful for tracking the progression of MS over time. Doctors will compare repeated scans to monitor changes in the brain and spinal cord, such as new Multiple Sclerosis lesions or more severe damage from existing MS lesions, which helps them assess how well a patient’s treatment plan works. 

    3. Identifying Other Potential Causes

    In some cases, an MRI scan can also help identify potential alternative explanations for a patient’s symptoms, such as infections or tumours that might be causing similar symptoms but require different treatments than those for MS itself. 

    4. Improving Quality of Life

    By monitoring the progression of the disease with regular MRIs, doctors can adjust treatments to reduce symptom severity and improve the quality of life for patients living with MS. This could include changes in medication dosages or switching medications entirely to find something that works better with fewer side effects. 

    5. Reduced Reliance on Invasive Procedures

    Unlike other procedures used to diagnose MS, such as lumbar punctures or cerebrospinal fluid analysis (CSF), MRI scans are non-invasive and pose minimal risk to patients undergoing them. This makes them much easier on patients who already have compromised health due to their MS diagnosis.