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When is an MRI Needed?

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is one of the most valuable tools available for neurological conditions. It gives us details about the brain and spinal cord that can’t be produced using any other type of diagnostic imaging.

When your child’s symptoms and neurological exam suggest they need an MRI, THINK Neurology for Kids doesn’t make you wait. They order an MRI on the Memorial Hermann campus to be done within days or sooner when needed.

We wrote this blog to give you more information about the conditions that may need an MRI and the exceptional information we can obtain through this type of diagnostic imaging.

MRI versus other imaging techniques

Each type of imaging gives us a unique view inside your body. While X-rays do a great job showing details about your bones, MRIs are better for creating images of the soft tissues.

An MRI allows us to see areas of disease and abnormalities in soft tissues. MRIs produce remarkable pictures of the brain and spine. The technology used during an MRI can “see” through the skull and create images of the brain without exposing your child to radiation.

The MRI machine takes cross-sectional images from many directions, from top to bottom, front to back, and side to side. Then the computer uses the slices to produce three-dimensional (3D) views.

A targeted MRI gives us 3D images of specific areas of the central nervous system. With this technique, we can obtain customized MRIs that reveal incredible details like scar tissue on a nerve and changes in the brain’s white matter.

Conditions that need an MRI

After thoroughly evaluating your child’s medical history and symptoms, we complete a neurological exam and psychological exam. Then we decide if we need additional diagnostic tests, such as blood tests, an electroencephalogram (EEG), or an MRI.

Obtaining an MRI allows us to accurately diagnose many conditions and determine the severity of the problem.

These are a few examples of problems that may need an MRI:

An MRI fills different roles, depending on the disease. Sometimes an MRI is essential for a diagnosis. In other cases, an MRI isn’t routinely used for a diagnosis, but it can help us rule out other conditions that cause similar symptoms. Or, in the case of a problem like migraines, we may need an MRI if your child’s headaches get worse or don’t respond to medication.

Valuable information from an MRI

Here are two examples showing what an MRI can reveal and how it supports treatment decisions:


The first diagnostic test for epilepsy is an EEG. While the EEG shows us electrical brain activity that verifies a seizure, an MRI looks deeper. 

An MRI shows us the structural changes or underlying disorders that may trigger seizures. MRIs also help us determine the exact type of seizure, which is critical for making treatment decisions.

Multiple sclerosis (MS)

MRI is the preferred diagnostic imaging for children with MS because it shows details like demyelination. MS develops when the immune system damages myelin, a sheath that wraps around every nerve.

Myelin provides insulation and allows electrical impulses to travel through the nerve. When this vital cover is damaged, the nerves stop communicating, and MS symptoms develop.

Children with MS typically go through flare-ups that alternate with periods of remission. An MRI may help us determine the risk of a second MS attack. Then we can recommend treatments to delay a flare-up.

We can also use MRIs to track the progress of the disease and determine if we need to adjust your child’s treatment.

If you have any questions about an upcoming MRI or would like to learn if your child should have an MRI, call THINK Neurology for Kids or request an appointment online today.

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