Why Would a Doctor Order an MRI for the Brain?

MRI of the brain

Our minds are precious. They make us – well, us. It’s understandable to be concerned if you learn that you or a loved one needs an MRI of the brain. Uncertainty about what an MRI does, why it’s necessary, and what it means for your health can be tough to navigate.

Likewise, feeling like you could benefit from an MRI – but being unable to access one – can also leave you in the dark.

Why would a doctor order an MRI of the brain and not another diagnostic test? How can you be sure that an MRI is what you need?

We can set the record straight on one thing: if your doctor has ordered an MRI on the brain or head, you can rest assured it’s worth it.

MRIs are safe, effective, and powerful resources for patients and providers alike. They can help us spot health problems early and keep a close eye on our bodies.

But no matter why you may want or need an MRI of the brain, it helps to know what your options are. 

Note: This article is meant simply for educational purposes. It should not act as a substitute for advice from a medical professional. Contact Craft Concierge for direct primary care in Tampa or Tulsa to speak with a medical professional.

What Is an MRI of the Brain, Exactly?

A brain (head) MRI scan is a test that creates clear images of the structures in your head, including your brain.

MRI stands for magnetic resonance imaging, a practice that uses large magnets, radio waves, and a computer to create detailed images. 

Unlike X-rays, MRI scans do not use radiation. They’re currently the most sensitive imaging test available for the head and brain, making them a top option for healthcare providers looking to diagnose or monitor conditions.

What is a brain MRI scan with contrast?

If your doctor orders an MRI, you might notice that they’ve chosen either an MRI scan of the brain with or without contrast.

An MRI scan of the brain with contrast is simply one that uses an injection of contrast material that makes it easier for doctors to get better, clearer images.

The most common type of contrast material is gadolinium, a rare earth metal. When it enters your body, it interacts with nearby water molecules and changes their magnetic properties.

This leads to more specific and sensitive diagnostic images. It can also help enhance signs of key concerns such as:

  • Tumors
  • Inflammation
  • Stroke
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS)
  • Dementia
  • Infection 

 

If you need an MRI scan of the brain with contrast, your provider will insert an IV line into a vein to inject the material.

Don’t worry, though – contrast materials are considered safe IV drugs with a low risk of severe reactions.

Difference Between MRI and CT Scan of the Brain

A computerized tomography (CT) scan is another tool doctors sometimes use to get images of bodily structures, but it’s not the same as an MRI. 

A CT scan combines a series of X-ray images taken from different angles around the body. Then, it uses computer processing to create cross-sectional images that your provider can use to diagnose or assess conditions.

As a result, CT scans provide more detailed information than traditional X-rays. 

But, a CT scan is no replacement for an MRI of the brain; the two tests have different strengths. MRIs are typically more useful in situations where organs or soft tissues are the focus because they are better than CT scans at identifying abnormal soft tissue.

Meanwhile, CT scans are more often used for things like identifying bone fractures or internal bleeding.

When Is a Brain MRI Necessary?

mri of the brain

A doctor might deem a head MRI necessary for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, brain MRI scans help healthcare providers diagnose certain conditions or monitor existing conditions. 

The symptoms you report and concerns that can be seen from the outside aren’t always enough to point to clear diagnoses or treatment plans. And, if you have an ongoing condition – such as cancer – that requires close monitoring, an MRI might be a key part of your treatment plan.

Likewise, if you are predisposed to certain illnesses due to family history, other health conditions, etc., MRI imaging tests can serve as a form of preventative care. Spotting warning signs early leads to better treatment outcomes and gives you more control over how you care for your health.

In other cases, a brain MRI might be ordered before surgeries involving your head. If you sustain any sort of head injury, a doctor might order a head MRI scan to check for bleeding or swelling. 

To summarize, your doctor may order an MRI of the brain to: 


  • Diagnose certain conditions
  • Monitor existing health concerns
  • Offer preventative care services
  • Prepare you for surgery 

If you’re unsure why your provider has ordered a head MRI, be sure to contact them and ask for more information. 

What Does an MRI of the Brain Show?

Depending on the areas examined, MRI images of the brain and head can show your doctor:

  • Your brain, brain stem, and parts of your spine
  • Your skull and facial bones
  • Structures inside your inner ear and eye
  • Nerves throughout your head and brain
  • Surrounding soft tissue

 

More specifically, a head MRI can reveal abnormalities in your brain, including inflammation, bleeding (hemorrhage), structural issues, and abnormal growths or masses.

Common Reasons for an MRI of the Brain

People with symptoms of one or more of the following conditions may need one or more brain MRIs for diagnosis, monitoring, or treatment:

  • Brain aneurysm
  • Brain infections (encephalitis)
  • Blood clots in the brain
  • Brain tumors and cysts
  • Neurological conditions
  • Dementia
  • Hydrocephalus
  • Pituitary gland issues
  • Stroke
  • Issues with brain development or structure
  • Traumatic brain injury (TBI)

 

Even if you don’t live with a chronic health condition, an MRI may still be a necessary part of your treatment plan.

Symptoms like those below – combined with other indicators – may prompt your doctor to order an MRI of the brain to help them identify the problem: 

  • Chronic headaches or migraines
  • Frequent vertigo and dizziness
  • Seizures
  • Unexplained hearing or vision loss
  • Significant changes to thinking and behavior

Preparing for a Brain or Head MRI: What to Know

If your doctor has ordered an MRI of the brain for you or a loved one, it’s okay to feel nervous. The process can seem mystifying and overwhelming, especially if you’ve never had an MRI before. But there are some steps you can take to prepare for a brain MRI that should help give you some peace of mind.

The most important thing to do to prepare is to talk to your doctor if you haven’t already.

Make sure you know what’s expected of you before and on the day of the MRI, and be sure to ask any questions. 

If you’re claustrophobic or otherwise worried about the exam, let your doctor know, and they can take steps beforehand to help you.

This is also a good opportunity to tell your doctor about anything that could affect your MRI (again, if you haven’t already). Tell your doctor if you:

  • Have any sort of metal-containing implant or medical device
  • Are pregnant or think you might be
  • Have body piercings
  • Have tattoos
  • Have ever had a bullet wound or worked with metal
  • Cannot lie down for 30 to 60 minutes

Can I eat before an MRI of the brain?

Unless your provider tells you otherwise, you can keep eating and taking medications as usual as you prepare for your MRI. Many MRIs don’t require you to fast beforehand, especially head MRIs.

What Not to Do Before an MRI of the Brain

Sometimes, it’s easier to focus on what not to do as we prepare for something new.

Avoid basic mistakes like these to make sure your MRI goes as smoothly as possible. 

  • Don’t wear metal. Because of how MRIs work, you’ll be asked to remove metal of any kind as you change into the hospital gown you’ll wear during the MRI. Skip the jewelry and accessories – leave these sorts of belongings at home.
  • Don’t hold on to your wallet. The MRI scan can destroy the magnetic strips on the back of your credit cards.
  • Don’t skip medications before or on the day of the MRI. Your doctor will clearly instruct you to do this if it’s necessary. Otherwise, don’t make assumptions.
  • Don’t keep your questions or worries to yourself. Your doctor is there to make you feel comfortable, so don’t hesitate to speak up if something is wrong or if you need help.

What to Expect During a Head MRI

mri of the brain

Once you’ve adequately prepared for an MRI of the brain, your next step is to wait for the big day to roll around.

Here’s a brief breakdown of what you can expect during the procedure:

  1. You’ll be brought back to a space where you can change into a hospital gown. You may leave behind any jewelry or personal belongings that may interfere with the test. Some providers have lockers you can use to tuck these items away.
  2. Next, you’ll be brought to the exam room. A radiologist or radiology technician – who is specifically trained and certified to perform MRIs – will conduct the MRI scan.
  3. In most cases, you’ll be asked to lay face up on the MRI scanning bed. Your tech should make sure you’re comfortable and relaxed as you settle in.
  4. Your tech will position a small helmet-like device called a head coil around your head. You’ll also be given earplugs to wear during the scan.
  5. The tech will slide you and the scanning bed into the MRI machine for the exam. 
  6. The MRI will pass an electric current through the head coil to create a temporary magnetic field in your head. Then, a transmitter or receiver in the machine sends and receives radio waves that a computer will use to create digital images of inside your head.

 

Once the scan begins, you may hear the equipment make knocking and clicking noises as it takes pictures. This is normal and nothing to worry about. The earplugs will protect you from loud noises.

The exam will take place for a minimum of around 30 minutes. Most MRI exams are painless, but some people find staying still for so long to be uncomfortable. Luckily, though, for most MRI brain scans, your whole body doesn’t have to go into the MRI machine tunnel.

Here are a few more things to keep in mind on the day of:

  • You’ll have to remain very still during the exam to get the best quality images.
  • The area being scanned may feel slightly warm; this is normal.
  • Your MRI tech will be able to see and talk with you at all times. An intercom system inside the machine allows two-way communication. You should also have a call button in your hand that you can push to let your tech know if you’re having any issues.
  • If your MRI involves contrast, your provider will give you the IV injection of the material before you undergo the MRI.

The Big Question: How Much Does a Head MRI Cost?

The price of an MRI of the brain can depend on the facility, the type of MRI scan, your location, and more. However, one report notes that the median cost of an MRI in the United States falls around $1432, over double the cost seen in many similar countries.

If you have insurance and your MRI is deemed medically necessary to diagnose or monitor a condition, your exam should be covered. But that doesn’t mean you won’t still have to manage copayments and deductibles. Plus, not all plans cover all health services at the frequency you may need them.

If your MRI is not considered “medically necessary,” you’ll likely be expected to pay out of pocket.

This makes preventative care a challenge for many. If you have a family history of brain tumors, for instance, your doctor might be able to use MRIs as a tool for detecting early warning signs before they worsen.

But if you can only afford an MRI when problems already exist, you may miss out on opportunities to protect your health. 

Craft Concierge offers an alternative for those who may benefit from more consistent imaging scans and other diagnostic tests.

For instance, our Early Cancer Detection Program, which is one piece of our Comprehensive Membership, gives you access to brain MRI, CT body scan, the Galleri multi-cancer blood test, and other advanced medical imaging options that help you detect cancer in the earliest stages.

MRI Imaging of the Brain & More at Craft Concierge

If you or a loved one needs an MRI of the brain, try your best not to make any assumptions or jump to the worst conclusions.

While MRI scans of the brain sometimes are used to detect serious health issues, they can also be useful for preventing and monitoring symptoms. 

If your doctor has ordered an MRI, it’s likely for a good reason. If you’re looking to get an MRI done for other reasons – to look for early signs of cancer or disease, for instance – you may need to work with a provider who can meet your needs.

Here at Craft Concierge, we offer direct care that changes lives. Our membership-based healthcare services allow you to cut insurance out of the equation, giving you the freedom to see the providers you want on your schedule.

Our memberships also allow you to pursue imaging tests beyond what insurance companies usually allow.

Say goodbye to the headache of navigating traditional healthcare. With a Comprehensive Membership, which starts at $350/month, you gain access to exclusive programs for Early Cancer Detection, Lifestyle Optimization, and Cardiovascular Wellness. Enjoy access to advanced diagnostic tools and screening while still benefiting from the benefits of our Basic Membership, including:

  • Unlimited direct primary care appointments and acute visits
  • 24/7 access to our virtual care team
  • Annual core labs
  • Advanced diagnostic imaging, medication, and X-rays are available on-site
  • Chronic disease management
  • Specialty care coordination
  • Minor procedures


If you live with a chronic illness, are over the age of 50, are at a higher risk of facing health concerns or otherwise want to take your needs into your own hands, Craft Concierge is here to help. Get started with direct healthcare and brain MRIs in Tulsa or Tampa by contacting Craft Concierge today.

Experience a new, better kind of healthcare.

Become a Craft Concierge member today and see how much better your healthcare experience can be with Direct Primary Care.
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