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How Much Does a Head MRI Cost?

July 26, 2021 | Farah Jassawalla

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is a painless, non-invasive, and frankly revolutionizing diagnostic modality in the world of medical technology. The idea that every individual nucleus acted like its own magnet was proposed in the early 1900s, but it wasn’t until 1977 that the theoretical concept was applied in the world of medicine.

Frankly, the quantum concept was enough to change how we viewed medicine - quite literally! Before the discovery of magnetic resonance, physicians relied heavily on x-rays to visualize the internal workings of the human body.

While that was effective for well over half a century, ionizing radiation did more harm than it did well. For example, you increased the chances of developing cancer each time you went into a physician’s office to get an x-ray for a fracture.

Magnetic resonance imaging employs the use of magnetic fields and radio waves to detect proton energies and construct three-dimensional images.

History of Magnetic Resonance

When x-rays were first introduced into the world of medical imaging, most people thought that it was the single most revolutionizing concept in the field. While it might have paved the way, it certainly was not revolutionary.

In fact, the use of medical resonance, magnetic fields, and radio waves was the real revolution. The idea that our bodies are composed of protons and atoms that can elicit and align themselves parallel or antiparallel in a magnetic field was enough for people to harness that inherent ability of an atom for their own use.

Issac Rabi was the first person who theorized that the alignment of atoms can be altered temporarily by providing a stronger magnetic force. The atoms would then realign themselves to their original position.

Rabi’s theory was based on quantum physics. However, in 1977 his concept was introduced into the world of medical imaging. Shortly before his death in January of 1988, Rabi was able to experience an MRI scan of himself.

When Would a Doctor Recommend an MRI?

MRIs are relatively painless and non-invasive diagnostic procedures. The side-effects of having an MRI performed are negligible to none compared to having an x-ray. In addition, MRIs are more precise and can be altered with contrast media and functioning systems for more detailed imaging.

An MRI scanner is a hollowed-out tunnel-like device. The patient is asked to lie down flat on a table and the table slowly enters the scanner. The scanner then moves around the entire table and records images in various spatial arrangements.

Your physician would recommend an MRI scan if he or she suspects an underlying pathology or a condition that can not be explained via clinical tests. Alternatively, your physician might request an MRI scan to confirm his or her initial diagnosis.

Common Head Pathologies

Common pathologies and traumas of the head include:

  • Head trauma
  • Cerebral bleeding
  • Aneurysms
  • Cranial fractures
  • Infections
  • Tumors (to differentiate between benign and metastasis)
  • Blocked arteries (angiographies)
  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Stroke

An MRI with contrast employs the use of a dye that is injected intravenously (IV) into the arm. MRI with contrast shows the functioning of the brain. The only possible side effect that might result from the contrast is an allergic reaction. Patients are therefore asked to fill out a detailed form before they’re advised on MRI scans.

Preparing for an MRI and the Procedure

Not everyone who requires medical imaging is advised to have an MRI scan. The magnetic field is powerful enough to disrupt metallic prosthetics and attachments. If these attachments (jewelry and watches) and prosthetics (artificial limbs) can be removed, the patient is cleared for the procedure.

However, if the prosthetic is a heart shunt or something that cannot be removed, the patient is advised against an MRI scan. MRI scans will be disruptive if there’s any metal impeding its path and alternatively, the metallic prosthetic would be damaged.

Another important consideration to make before having an MRI scan done is that the procedure lasts anywhere between fifteen to forty-five minutes. The patient is asked to lie completely still during the procedure.

Some patients are wary of getting an MRI scan done because of claustrophobia. Patients are therefore either sedated before the procedure or advised against having one done.

In some cases, protective headgear is given to the patient before the procedure starts. Patients are also made aware of the fact that the machine will be loud. They are therefore given headphones or anything of the sort to distract them from the noise.

How Much Does a Head MRI Cost?

Prices for a head MRI scan average at about $1250 in the United States. Prices vary from $250 up to $3000 depending upon the treatment facility and state you’re looking for one.

MRI with contrast typically costs more than simple MRIs. MRI of various spatial arrangements is also more costly. Generally, your insurance takes care of the cost. However, if you have a higher deductible, you should consider going for cheaper options.

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