MRI for Headaches and Migraines

Do you have constant headaches and Migraines? We discuss potential ways an MRI can help diagnose the root cause to accelerate your treatment

Around 10 million people in the UK suffer from migraines, with over 16 500 NHS A&E admissions.  A headache is pain in the head or upper neck. They may be primary (not associated with a medical condition) or secondary (caused by an injury or medical condition). Primary headaches include tension, migraine and cluster headaches. Most headaches are not indicative of a serious medical problem. However, you should seek medical attention if it is severe or unusual, does not respond to treatment and worsens over time, frequently recurs or is accompanied by injury, seizures, vomiting or fever or by changes in speech, vision or behavior

Migraines And Headaches

Primary headaches include tension, migraine and cluster headaches.

Symptoms of a tension headache include pressure and a band-like tightness that begins in the back of the head and upper neck, and gradually encircles the head.

Cluster headaches are headaches that occur in groups, or clusters, over a period of several weeks or months separated by headache-free periods of months or years. During the headache period, the cluster headache sufferer experiences several episodes of pain during the day, each of which lasts 30 to 90 minutes. These attacks, which often occur at the same time of day, include sharp, penetrating pain around or behind one eye, watering of the eye and a stuffy nose

What Is A Migraine?

Migraines are considered as a disabling condition characterised by a headache felt intensely on one side of the head with a pain score ranging from moderate to severe. The exact causes have yet to be ascertained, although experts now agree that migraines disrupt the normal blood flow to the brain which, in turn, affects nerve links and chemical reactions

Untreated migraines will inevitably worsen. Without proper interventions, such as rest, and support of pain medications, a migraine can go easily from moderate to severe, affect or shift to other parts of the head, or keep going for several days as it causes more pain and discomfort.

Over time, untreated migraine leads to lesions. In turn, lesions can cause structural damage to the brain. Migraine MRI lesions can then lead to brain atrophy. That means migraines can cause irreversible damage to certain neurons which, eventually, can lead to mental health conditions, including dementia and memory loss

Do I need an MRI ?

The main reason why everyone who goes to their doctor complaining about a throbbing head is not required to undergo an MRI is that the brain scan of a person suffering from migraine attacks look the same as someone who does not have a migraine. Also, imaging scans like MRI can be expensive for the NHS to perform, but private MRI scans are reducing in price and most are covered by private medical insurance.

During your consultation, expect to answer questions and undergo a physical examination. Your doctor will specifically attempt to establish whether you are experiencing a primary headache or a secondary headache. The difference is that a secondary headache will have underlying causes, such as a tumour, while a primary headache will not.

If your doctor suspects an underlying cause or wants to be sure your migraine does not indicate any other more severe condition, you will likely be sent for a migraine MRI scan to aid further investigation and inform diagnosis


Kareem Omar
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