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The Importance of Annual MRI's

September 28, 2016

If you have multiple sclerosis, you probably had several tests done before you received your diagnosis. There isn’t one test to diagnosis MS, so testing can vary. Doctors can use neurological exams, information about previous symptoms, blood tests, and spinal fluid tests.

MRI’s aren’t used to specifically diagnose MS, but they are useful in showing abnormalities in the brain and spinal cord. Doctors can use the initial MRI to compare with follow ups to see how the disease progresses. Most doctors mandate that their patients get a yearly MRI, preferably done on the same scanner.

In general, there are four different types of scans that can be used for an initial MS diagnosis and for additional follow-ups:

  • Spinal cord imaging: This scan shows damage along the spinal cord that might have happened at different times in different areas.
  • T1-weighted: This MRI scan of the brain uses an intravenously injected fluid to help doctors see lesions more clearly. The fluid helps to spotlight areas that have inflammation. Dark spots can also be detected. It’s believed these may show areas of permanent damage to the nerves.
  • T2-weighted: Images from this type of scan can tell doctors about new and old wounds in the tissue.
  • Fluid-Attenuated Inversion Recovery (FLAIR): Images from this type of brain scan can tell doctors about lesions that are related to MS.

Key results

  • Nearly 17% of clinically stable patients with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS) being treated with interferon beta or glatiramer acetate showed disease activity in a routine MRI scan, suggesting the practicality of conducting yearly routine MRIs on clinically stable patients.
  • 16.7% of 436 clinically stable patients with RRMS who had MRI scans showing new, enlarged, or active lesions, yet disease-modifying treatments (DMT) were changed in only 4.4% of patients based on those MRI results.
  • In 36% of patients with MRI changes, DMTs were not changed due to patient request.