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Brain scanning 101: brain medical imaging & more

The brain is one of the most complex organs of the body, but it's also one of the most fragile. The hard shell of the skull protects the brain against knocks and bumps. However, traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) unfortunately occur frequently.

According to the Brain Injury Alliance, 2.8 million Americans suffer a traumatic brain injury every year. This doesn't include more mild injuries such as concussions or unreported incidents. Brain injuries are serious.

Even a tiny amount of damage can cause permanent disability if left untreated. It can be nerve-wracking to think about receiving a brain scan, but quick intervention is key to recovering from a brain injury.

The only real way for a doctor to properly assess the severity of a brain injury is through a type of brain scan. There are a few types of scans used for specific purposes.

Why do I need a brain scan?

Perhaps you have recently experienced a TBI, or maybe you've noticed your motor function decreasing at a fast rate and are concerned for your brain health. Unfortunately, unlike other parts of the body, you can't see brain swelling or bruising, and it can be hard to pinpoint any direct cause of pain. Brain scans can help you discover critical information that you can't see or decipher with our naked eye. You may need a brain scan if you are experiencing symptoms such as:

  • Vision trouble
  • Frequent or increasing memory loss
  • Loss of motor function
  • Slurred speech
  • Sudden and painful headaches
  • Hormonal changes

Your doctor may order a brain scan if they are concerned that you may have undiagnosed brain trauma. There are many reasons some of these symptoms may present themselves. It could be an injury, tumor, or disease.

What does a brain scan show?

Brain scans act similarly to X-rays, but they can provide doctors with more insight instead of just showing the bones. A brain scan will show the soft tissue structures of the brain. These include:

  • Brain tissue
  • Brain stem
  • Fluid or inflammation
  • Blood vessels
  • Surrounding bones of the skull.

A brain scan will help your radiologist identify any abnormalities in your brain's tissue or structure, from blood clots to tumors, swelling, or bruising. B can also show areas of the brain where atrophy–meaning loss of tissue–has occurred.

Common causes of brain injury

Brain injuries usually occur from some form of impact. This could be a blow to the head, such as a fall, or by a penetrating object like a bullet. Data also shows car accidents and assault are common causes of brain injuries. Brain damage can also occur due to disease, infection, drug and alcohol abuse, choking, or lack of oxygen to the brain.

Common brain diagnoses

Diagnoses of brain injuries or abnormalities fall into 2 categories:

Brain injury

There are three levels of traumatic brain injury:

  • Mild injury or concussion
  • Moderate traumatic brain injury
  • Severe traumatic brain injury

Brain injuries typically cause swelling, inflammation, or internal bleeding. Additionally, the pressure of fluid surrounding your brain can cause surrounding brain cells to die or cause the neurons to function abnormally.

Brain diseases

Brain diseases can be degenerative, such as in the case of dementia. But they can occur suddenly, such as in the cases of stroke, aneurysm, or cell death due to a heart attack. If you are experiencing symptoms regarding motor function, memory, or speech, it's critical to visit a doctor as soon as possible. This could be a sign of a potential cyst or tumor that is pressing against a portion of your brain, or another condition.

Types of scans for the brain

The two most common types of brain scans are computerized tomography (CT) scans and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. Both take detailed images of the brain and diagnose different conditions. Your doctor may request one of these scans if they have concerns over your brain health.

CT scans for the brain

MRI for the brain

MRI scans use magnetic fields and radio waves to take images of the brain across three planes. Then, a computer puts all of the images together, providing a 3D look at the brain. Although they are similar to a CT scan, MRIs take more detailed images of soft tissue.

The brain and head are primarily made up of soft tissue. An MRI makes it easier to distinguish between different structures. An abnormal brain MRI scan will typically show some change within the brain tissue. Since the images provide more detail, MRIs help identify subtle changes that lead to a higher risk of stroke and dementia.

How long does a brain scan take?

The length of time it takes to get a brain scan depends on the type of scan you receive and other important details. For example, CT scans take less time than MRI scans, while MRI generate more detailed images and usually take at least 30 to 60 minutes.

Find a brain scan medical imaging center near me

If your doctor recommends that you receive a brain scan, or if you're looking for a scan as an addition to your preventative health regime, you can find a brain scan center near you by using scan.com’s scan search tool. Finding a brain scan near you from our list of trusted imaging centers is quick and easy.


  1. https://www.nbia.ca/brain-injury-statistics/
  2. https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/mri/about/pac-20384768
  3. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/146309
  4. https://opa.org.uk/what-is-the-difference-between-ct-scans-and-mri-scans/
  5. https://www.talktomira.com/post/how-much-does-an-mri-cost-without-insurance-in-2021
  6. https://www.newchoicehealth.com/ct-scan/cost

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