After attending a C.H.A.T. (Connecting Helping, Aspiring, Teaching) session sponsored by MS LifeLines, an educational support service for people living with MS and their families, the recent topic was “MRI and MS.”
Many of the attendees that have multiple sclerosis have had one or more MRIs, but not all understood how they worked and how important it is to monitor one’s health. MRI stands for magnetic resonance imaging. They are non-invasive and painless. If an intravenous contrast is used, it is administered by a needle, usually in the arm.
The MRI uses a strong magnet to take pictures of the central nervous system (CNS). It shows the amount of water in tissues, and MS lesions contain higher levels of water than surrounding tissue. By using contrast, certain tissues will show up differently than without the contrast solution.
An MRI is used to diagnose MS because it shows size, location, number and shape of lesions, or areas of damage. By using prior images versus current images, the MRI can reflect how well your current treatment is working.
Monitoring MS is a job between the person with MS and their doctor. Some doctors recommend MRI more often than others. It is wise to keep track of your symptoms in a journal. More often when visiting your doctor, it can be difficult to remember specific symptoms. By bringing the journal, specific instances can be brought into the foreground and can assist in your treatment.
A great recommendation from the discussion was to have MRI performed at a teaching hospital, because they usually have the latest equipment and doctors who are up on the newest treatment and breakthroughs for treating MS.
Years ago, to obtain copies of the films, they were given in a very heavy envelope with multiple screens that were viewed on a lighted viewer. Now thanks to digital technology, a copy of an MRI is usually handed to the patient just a few moments after the scan is completed. It is important to keep a copy of your MRIs for several reasons. Doctors retire; people move from one place to another, and life goes on. If it is necessary to change the location of where the previous MRIs were done, it is important to verify the strength of the magnet of the new machine. Open MRIs are not recommended for MS evaluation, because the magnets are not strong enough for a full evaluation of multiple sclerosis.
Questions to consider when talking with your doctor include:
- Can I see my MRI?
- Can I keep a copy of my MRI for my personal files?
- How often should I have an MRI?
- What changes have occurred since my last MRI?
- What effect(s) might I experience because of the location of the lesion(s)?
- What can the MRI tell me about my treatment?
Only you know how you feel, and you are the best judge of your symptoms and feelings. Do not sit quietly; however, ask your doctor any questions, no matter how insignificant you think these questions are.
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