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MRI - Magnetic resonance Imaging

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: August 2014

One test that can be performed for migraine is MRI, which stands for Magnetic resonance Imaging.

Why get a Migraine MRI?

MRIs can detect:

  • Brain tumors
  • Aneurysms
  • Infections
  • Bleeding in the brain
  • Brain injuries
  • Fluid in the brain
  • Strokes
  • Spinal cord problems
  • Eye disorders
  • Ear disorders

For those with migraines, MRI can rule out these other problems - which may be very serious - and help confirm the migraine diagnosis.

How does MRI work

MRI uses very powerful magnets and radio waves to take digital pictures of the soft areas and organs inside of the body. A patient lies on a table that slides into the MRI machine. Small coils are placed around the body part being examined. In some cases, contrast dye is injected to help the images show up more clearly. The MRI machine makes a lot of thumping or tapping noises and some people ask for earplugs. The entire MRI for migraines can take 30 minutes to two hours. More than 60 million MRIs are done around the world every year.

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For people who are claustrophobic and have a fear of closed spaces, an Open MRI might be an option.

Because of the power of the magnets in the MRI machine, no metal objects, including eyeglasses, zippers, ink pens, pacemakers, hearing aids, intrauterine devices, artificial limbs, medicine skin patches, dentures, medication pumps or other implants are allowed in the MRI area. Also, people with recent blood vessel surgery, kidney problems and sickle cell anemia may not be able to have contrast dye given in some MRIs. People who have iron-containing tattoos or tattooed eyeliner can have skin or eye irritation from the magnetic pull of the MRI machine. Also people who are pregnant, have severe lung disease or may have metal fragments in their skin or eyes are usually advised against having migraine MRI.

MRIs can show how blood flows in the brain and if there are abnormal lesions in the brain, which are commonly seen in migraine suffers.

Doctors are more likely to recommend MRI for those with migraines, if the migraine sufferer had a CT scan, or CAT scan that was inconclusive.