How Does an MRI Work to Diagnose/Treat Headaches?

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Although headaches are the number one complaint in most medical settings, doctors are usually careful to differentiate the type of headache in order to rule out anything serious. Tools like MRIs can be used to determine if a new headache with a sudden onset is secondary to some other medical condition.


MRI stands for magnetic resonance imaging. Pictures of almost any part of your body, no matter how small or complex, can be viewed using powerful magnetic field and radio waves. These waves create detailed images of your internal organs and systems to aid doctors in diagnosis.

Most MRI machines are powerful, tube shaped magnets large enough to surround your body. The MRI aligns the water molecules in your body and hit it with radio waves, which return signals that the computer turns into images. As you travel through the tube, the MRI takes several picture slices in order to map your brain.

Because of the strong magnets, the following items should be removed during the test so they are not damaged or distort the image results:

  • Jewelry, credit cards, watches and hearing aids
  • Anything metallic
  • Removable dental work
  • Body piercing

Diagnosing Headaches

Most headache diagnosis is carried out in the subjective portion of a patient interview. If indicated during the interview and physical examination, the doctor may order an MRI to get more detailed information.

MRI may be indicated if a headache meets the following criteria:

  • Sub-acute or progressively worsening headache
  • A different type of headache than normally experienced
  • Sudden onset of headache
  • Headache due to a cough or sneeze
  • Seizures

Headache Treatment

A relatively new use for MRI is known as a Functional MRI or fMRI. This procedure records images of the brain while it is performing various functions. It can even record what is going on in your brain during a headache, allowing the dentist to make a more accurate diagnosis and begin to treat your condition.

Dentists use fMRI to perform the following:

  • Examine the brain's anatomy
  • Monitor brain tumors for changes
  • Guide and plan brain surgery
  • Brain mapping
  • Assess damage caused by stroke or neurological disease

As MRI technology and other medical advances are made, more uses for this technology will help dentists diagnose and treat all sorts of ailments. If you have a headache that is not typical for you, appears suddenly, or that you classify as the “worst headache ever,” you should consult a dentist to rule out a serious illness or injury. With the use of MRI technology, your doctor is able to make a better diagnosis and treatment plan.

If you believe you may need an MRI for headache diagnosis or headache treatment, contact Think Better Life by calling 1-847-533-8313 to set up your individualized headaches consultation.