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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.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • Julie
    7 years ago

    I am extremely claustrophobic and petrified of tight enclosed spaces. I’ve had an MRI done twice in the past 10 years and both times they gave me Valium but it still did not calm me down. They put a dark cloth over my eyes and ear plugs but I was still terrified. My last MRI was done in 2006 and they found a sinus cyst but nothing else. I remember on the ride home the valium was then kicking in and I was spacing out and when my husband got me in bed he was worried about leaving me home alone. He called my best friend to check on me but I was in LaLa land by then. But during the test I was having a panic attack and it would not kick in then, only afterwards. But the idiots gave me the valium an hr before the test so I guess that’s why it didn’t work that well. I hate those machines!! And they bump you around too, they just don’t sit still. Nerve wracking. I hope to never have one of those again. And the contrast when they did it by IV sort of burned a little when the paused the test 1/2 way. Is that common?

  • Diana-Lee author
    7 years ago

    Yes, it’s not uncommon for something given my IV to burn a bit, including the contrast.

    I’m so sorry they didn’t give you the valium in time to allow it to help you handle the situation. 🙁

  • jeanrobart
    7 years ago

    My journey with migraine began with light5 sensitivity. When i had my MRI, it was not during an episode. But it kicked one off, and I had to yell at them to stop it so I could get up and be sick. That is one of the most unpleasant symptoms to get–actually vomiting. I didn’t have ANY for about 10 years, till they started again a few weeks ago. Hopefully, they will not require another MRI.

  • Diana-Lee author
    7 years ago

    That’s pretty much my feeling about it, too!

  • singnsk8ngrama
    7 years ago

    My MRI showed a LOT of little white spots throughout my brain. Does anyone know what that means or signifies? yes, I found that keeping my eyes closed is the best way too, I have had so many MRI’s of various parts of my body, I have lost track of how many.

  • marlenerossman
    7 years ago

    Those white spots are called foci. They are common in most long term migraineurs and the least of what you have to worry about!

  • Diana-Lee author
    7 years ago

    Researchers have observed white matter lesions on the brains of migraineurs. They don’t believe these spots are associated with any cognitive decline. I’ve written about this on my own site here: http://somebodyhealme.dianalee.net/2011/01/migraine-related-lesions-not-linked-to.html

    We will have a post about this issue sometime soon, so please stay tuned!

  • d2ambrose
    7 years ago

    I’ve had 2 MRI’s in the last year. Fortunately, there were no tumors or lesions but unfortunately, nothing was found to cause my migraines. Having an MRI can be a challenging experience. I found that if you close your eyes before entering the “tube” and keep them closed, the experience is not as traumatic. If you open your eyes, the top of the tube is just above your nose and you are surrounded by metal and you can not see downwards past your chest. Not a comfortable feeling especially if you have a tendency to be claustrophobic. I am not claustrophobic but I did have issues with the confining space. Just keep your eyes closed, like I wrote, breath deeply and think of something pleasant. I concentrated on mentally walking a beautiful beach with the ocean waves breaking on the shore line. The technician will provide headsets with your choice of music, which also helps. The procedure takes about 40 to 45 minutes. Good luck!

  • allen59
    7 years ago

    In the past six weeks I too have had MRIs (head and body) ct, nm bone scans, ultrasounds, I am waiting to have another MRI on spine, I have suffered migraines for over thirty years, but the last three months I have had constant head pain, some days I will get migraines, but mostly it is pain on the other side which I think is related to allodynia, I am trying to manage this pain but am fed up constantly taking painkillers. Waiting for results and all their tests are frustrating even though I know they are doing their best to come up with an answer. Thankyou Diana for sharing healme, very interesting.

  • Diana-Lee author
    7 years ago

    Thanks for sharing your tips!

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