MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and multiple sclerosis (MS)
What is MRI?
Magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, is an important tool that health care professionals may use to help confirm a multiple sclerosis diagnosis. It's a safe and painless technology that scans your body and allows your health care professional to see a picture of what's happening to your brain and spinal cord. MRI scans can also help your health care professional manage your MS.
An MRI is used to take detailed pictures of the brain and spinal cord. MRI scans show the amount of water in tissues, which is important for people living with MS since lesions have higher-than-normal water content. MRI uses a very large and very strong magnet to find these lesions. It takes detailed pictures of the central nervous system (CNS), which may show areas where there may be damage.
The exact correlation between MRI findings and the current or future clinical status of patients, including disability progression, is unknown.
An MRI takes detailed pictures of the central nervous system (CNS), which may show areas where there may be damage.
MRI: Beyond MS diagnosis
Multiple sclerosis can often be active in areas of the CNS that are not causing obvious symptoms. For this reason, your health care professional may want you to have a routine MRI from time to time. He or she will then compare your new MRI scan with your old one. Your health care professional can see if you have lasting lesions and also determine if you have new ones.
It's important to note, however, that MRI results and a patient's symptoms or disability status may or may not match. Talk to your health care professional about what he or she thinks about your MRI scan results and how those results may impact your care plan.
Types of MRI
Two types of MRI scans are commonly used for MS:
- Gadolinium-enhanced T1-weighted scans
This type of MRI reveals new lesions, which reflect areas where your MS is currently active. Before the MRI, you will receive an injection of Gadolinium, which acts like a dye. When MS is active, gadolinium will cross the blood-brain barrier (BBB) and reveal areas of inflammation by "lighting up." Health care professionals call these "enhancing lesions" because they are able to see them. Over time, lesions on gadolinium-enhanced MRI may grow or shrink, depending on how active your MS is.
- T2-weighted scans
These scans show both the number and size of new lesions. They also show older, inactive lesions. It's important to note, however, that they do not reveal new lesions as accurately as T1 scans. Regular T2 MRIs can be important for tracking long-term disease progression.
If you are having trouble getting your insurance company to cover an MRI scan, contact the MRI Institute* at the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America Website. This program is designed for patients with a diagnosis of MS who have no insurance or inadequate insurance and/or no financial means or inadequate financial means to pay for the test themselves. Patients needing an MRI exam specifically to determine a diagnosis of MS are not eligible for this program.
* Supported by a grant from EMD Serono, Inc. and Pfizer, Inc.