How MRI Scans Are Used to Identify Multiple Sclerosis

An MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging, is an extremely useful medical imaging tool, as it can help health professionals see physiological processes in the body that are otherwise impossible to see. For this reason, they are an excellent means for assessing multiple sclerosis, a condition wherein a person’s own immune system attacks the protective covering (myelin) surrounding the nerves of the central nervous system, which can cause some very debilitating symptoms. In this article, we take a look at how MRI scans are used in relation to multiple sclerosis to give you a better idea of why they’re so critical in assessing the condition. 

How MRIs are related to MS

If it is believe by a health professional that you have multiple sclerosis, an MRI is often the next step. Although there’s no one definitive test that can diagnose MS, an MRI scan in conjunction with symptoms, clinical evaluation, and a variety of other tests designed to rule out other conditions can provide a highly accurate picture. As part of this process, the MRI scan reveals areas of damage on the brain or spinal cord. These are called lesions, or plaques, and through monitoring these it becomes much simpler to understand disease activity and progression. It’s not necessarily a clear cut system, though – lesions shown on an MRI scan don’t always tied to the severity of symptoms, and they may even be evident when the patient doesn’t have multiple sclerosis. This is because lesions can be caused by other factors, and the lesions that people with MS have are not necessarily visible. Some lesions can also be made clearer by injecting contrast dye into the vein of a patient.

What an MRI scan is used to show

MRIs have a special function in relation to the discovery of multiple sclerosis – an MRI accompanied with contrast dye can demonstrate multiple sclerosis disease activity sites by presenting a pattern consistent with inflammation of active demyelinating lesions. Lesions that are shown will either be new or becoming larger due to growing damage to the myelin that covers certain nerves. An MRI will also be able to demonstrate where there are sites of permanent damage. These appear as dark holes in the brain or spinal cord, making them easy to spot. It should also be noted that MRIs are far from a one-off scan – after an MS diagnosis, an MRI scan may be repeated if concerning symptoms develop or in instances where an individual undergoes new treatment. In these instances, the visuals from the scan are used to determine how successful the treatment is through the examination of visible changes in the brain and spinal cord. Depending on these results, it will then be worked out what new or modified options may be implemented. 

Continuing to undergo MRI scans

You shouldn’t necessarily be concerned if your doctor recommends additional MRI scans – being able to better see how the brain and spine are being affected can be extremely helpful when it comes to monitoring disease activity and overall progression of the illness. You should also know that the frequency with which you might need to undergo scans can depend entirely on the type of MS you have and your health treatment plan, so make sure to enquire with your doctor if you’re at all concerned. 

Written by Jordan

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