mri and ms


Marching forward into a new month! Spring is almost here–hooray!

Continuing with my series on education about MS: part of our diagnosis (and continued monitoring) is through magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI. Why, and how?

Well, those of us with MS have damage to the myelin sheath–the protective layer around our nerves. This is composed primarily of fatty tissue. MRI scans can detect the difference between fat (myelin) and water (everything else)–so, at a glance, a trained technician is able to see where someone might have damage to myelin, since fat and… “non-fat” show up differently.

I have four different scans done routinely, to monitor my disease progress (and, so far, my only disease activity has been with my first big noticeable flareup!): two scans on my brain, and two on my cervical spine (neck region). One is done with a contrast dye, and one without. The contrast dye (gadolinium) is injected into the bloodstream. Normally, it stays in the bloodstream. But someone with currently active MS (rather than in remission, like mine) will have “holes” in their blood-brain barrier, which allows the gadolinium to leak through. In this case, the areas of disease activity in the brain (and any other scanned areas, such as spinal cord) will light up. Good news for me is that I’ve only had that happen on my first MRI series that diagnosed me! (All the rest have shown old lesions that don’t “light up”. Yeah, it would be even better to not have them in the first place, but you do the best you can with what you have, right?)

For our MRI scans, we also can’t use just any old MRI. I’d had several MRIs in the past for knee injuries, hip injuries… and have just gone to clinics to have those done. But the magnet in the scanner is not strong enough. There are a few hospitals around here that have a stronger MRI, which provide the necessary resolution. (And, I know which one is the cheapest–it’s still a sizeable copay! I’ll go 10 extra miles to save a few $100.)

So, that’s some of the basics about how MRI is used in monitoring MS (and a little in diagnosis, though it’s not necessarily the ultimate diagnostic tool). One final note, though:




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