Migraine Testing: What to Expect From An MRI

At one point or another during the migraine diagnosis and treatment journey, most migraine patients will be sent to get an MRI. Here's what you need to know about the procedure and what to expect from the experience.

MRI stands for Magnetic Resonance Imaging. An MRI uses strong magnets and radio waves to make detailed images of the interior of your body that can be printed on to films for your doctors and other health care providers to review. These films can help them diagnose diseases or rule out others. Since diagnosing migraine is a process of elimination, an MRI is a standard part of that process. MRIs can also help direct the management of diseases like migraine by identifying issues that need to be addressed.

An MRI can be given with contrast or without contrast. An MRI with contrast involves the injection of a dye into the veins to help the person reading your MRI films see certain types of abnormalities easier. There are two different types of machines used for MRI testing: Open and traditional. An open MRI is a good choice if you tend to feel panicked in small spaces. You can call different facilities ahead of time to find one that offers this option.

The traditional MRI machine is shaped sort of like a tube. The open MRI is more like a doughnut shape that only contains the part of your body being imaged.

On the day of your procedure your will go to the imaging facility and check in just like you would for any other procedure. The technician will ask you to remove all of your jewelry or anything else with metal on it and put on a hospital gown. They will also need to know if you have any metal in your body.

Next you lie down on the imaging table and the machine slides you inside to properly place your body to get the necessary images. For most migraineurs, the MRI will be taken of the head and sometimes also of the neck. You will be asked to stay absolutely still during the procedure so the images are as clear as possible.

The length of the procedure depends on how many images the technician is asked to provide. The technician will usually warn you how long you will have to stay still for each image and give you a chance to wiggle or scratch in between images.

For most migraineurs the most unpleasant aspects of the procedure are the banging noise of the machine doing its imaging work and the IV, if contrast is used.

Do you have questions or concerns about getting an MRI? Please share them in the comments.

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