While an MRI scan cannot specifically diagnose if a person has epilepsy, it helps figure out the possible cause of the seizures.

Epilepsy is an umbrella term for neurological disorders that cause seizures. There are many different kinds of seizures and types of epilepsy.

An MRI scan shows the structures of the brain and may give clues as to the cause of the seizures.

This article explores how an MRI scan can benefit a person with epilepsy, how often they may need an MRI scan, what MRI involves, and more.

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An MRI scan uses powerful magnets and radio waves to generate high-resolution, three-dimensional anatomical images without invasive procedures or radiation.

For people with epilepsy, an MRI scan is useful for showing if there is a scar or lesion on the brain.

MRI scans can help show structural lesions that may be the source of seizures, which can help diagnose the specific type of epilepsy and determine treatment.

Some epilepsy types benefit from surgical intervention, but not all. An MRI scan can help determine this.

A functional MRI is a type of imaging that can look at brain activity and determine any abnormal activity. This may also be helpful for identifying the source of the seizures.

However, an MRI scan may not be informative for types of epilepsy that do not occur as a result of damage to the brain. These include idiopathic generalized epilepsy and self-limited epilepsy with centrotemporal spikes.

Learn more about MRI scans here.

Doctors may order an MRI scan for people experiencing seizures, particularly if the cause is unknown.

To diagnose the source of the seizure activity, doctors typically order various tests, including:

These diagnostic procedures, along with a thorough medical history, family history, and detailed description of the seizure episodes, may help shed light on why a person is having seizures and what the best course of treatment is.

However, some people do not need to undergo all these tests. A person’s doctor can advise on what tests they recommend and what the tests involve.

Learn more about epilepsy tests here.

The frequency of MRI scans varies depending on individual circumstances. Following diagnosis or to assist with determining the cause of seizures, doctors may order an MRI to see if there are any structural changes in the brain.

A person’s doctor can advise on whether they recommend future MRI scans on the basis of the specific needs of the individual.

During an MRI exam, the individual having the scan typically wears earplugs or headphones and lies on a table that slides into a cylindrical machine. The exam should not cause any pain.

Some people may feel claustrophobic during the process. It is important to let the medical professional know.

During the MRI, the magnetic field causes the nucleus of hydrogen atoms within the cells of the body to align themselves in the same direction. These organized nuclei generate the MRI signal.

Sometimes the person having the test needs to have an intravenous (IV) contrast agent before or during the procedure to enhance certain images.

Experts consider MRI a safe imaging procedure. The scan does not involve the use of ionizing radiation, unlike other imaging studies. However, the magnetic field the machine employs is very strong, and it is important to take certain precautions before the procedure.

People having an MRI generally need to remove all metal objects, such as jewelry or metal on clothing. They must inform their doctor of any implants they have. Certain implants may not be suitable for an MRI scan.

A person may not need to do anything specific to prepare for an MRI. However, it is best that they discuss certain things with their doctor to ensure that MRI is the right option for them. These include:

  • telling their doctor about all implants
  • telling their doctor if they are pregnant
  • discussing dialysis needs for people with severe kidney failure who require regular dialysis, as sometimes it is necessary directly after receiving a contrast agent
  • discussing treatment for claustrophobia with their doctor

A person’s doctor will also be able to answer any questions they have about what to expect from the MRI and help to put their mind at ease.

After having an MRI scan, people can usually continue with their daily routine without any restrictions.

A radiologist will review the scans, interpret the results, and send a report to the ordering physician. This process can sometimes take 1–2 weeks. The doctor will then discuss the results with the individual at their appointment.

Here are some more frequently asked questions about epilepsy and MRI scans.

Can seizures be detected in MRI?

An MRI exam does not actively observe seizures. The purpose of an MRI exam is to locate possible structural abnormalities in the brain that may be causing seizure activity.

What imaging is best for epilepsy?

People experiencing epilepsy often need several types of imaging studies to discover the underlying cause. A person’s doctor can discuss what tests they recommend and what they involve.

Is an MRI or EEG better for seizures?

MRI and EEG have different purposes in the evaluation of seizures. An MRI detects structural abnormalities in the brain, whereas an EEG records the electrical activity of the brain.

An MRI scan may play a crucial role in the evaluation and management of epilepsy. By providing detailed images of the brain’s structure, MRI can help determine the underlying cause of the seizures, such as scars or lesions.

If the MRI scan reveals no abnormalities, people with epilepsy may need to undergo other types of tests or imaging as well to determine the cause of the seizures and confirm a precise diagnosis.