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What Are the Common Causes of an Abnormal MRI?

By Nicole Long
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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An abnormal magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test can be a result of numerous diseases and conditions. Abnormal MRIs of the brain can result from strokes, blood clots, and specific diseases, such as multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s disease. Various other conditions, such as sciatica during an MRI of the spine or blood clots of the legs, can also result in an abnormal MRI.

Magnetics fields and radio wave energy are used to produce pictures during an MRI exam. During the exam, patients lie on a table and are moved into the MRI machine. Patients can opt for either an open MRI, which provides some comfort to those who tend to become claustrophobic, or a closed MRI. In some cases, such as during an MRI of the brain, a physician may require the patient undergo the exam in a closed MRI machine in order to produce clearer images. Contrast, a dye that helps enhance the images and helps identify blood flow, may be ordered at the discretion of the physician.

Physicians order an MRI for a variety of reasons. When patients come to them with concerns related to pain, inflammation, or abnormal occurrences, physicians may request an MRI to help eliminate or identify potential sources of discomfort and problems. Common MRIs include those of the brain, spine, chest, and knee.

Causes of an abnormal MRI of the brain can stem from several diseases and conditions. Strokes and aneurysms are two of the conditions that can result in an abnormal MRI of the brain. Other abnormal MRI results can indicate a tumor, meningitis, and problems with the nerves traversing the brain, such as the optic nerve and auditory nerve.

An MRI of the spine can be useful for physicians and patients hoping to identify the source of back pain. Abnormal results can include identification of a herniated or bulging disc. Other abnormal results include pinched nerves and related conditions, such as sciatica.

One of the most common reasons for a physician to order an MRI is to help identify possible injury to the extremities. An MRI of the knee may lead to identification of a torn meniscus, ligament, or tendon. Arthritis in the joints of the arms and legs and bone fractures are some other possible reasons for an abnormal MRI of the extremities.

An abnormal finding on an MRI can also result from a number of other diseases, injuries, and conditions. Possible abnormalities that can be identified by an MRI include cervical spondylotic myelopathy, tumors, and encephalitis. Other abnormal findings are inflammation or bleeding found during any MRI examination.

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Discussion Comments

By Soulfox — On Aug 21, 2014

@Vincenzo -- The fact that people used to panic when stuck in one of those old tubes used for MRIs has been known to throw off results. That doesn't happen so much these days when open MRIs are common. Thank goodness for that.

By Vincenzo — On Aug 20, 2014

If an MRI reveals a serious problem, it might not be a bad idea to have another one done. MRIs are affected by a lot of things including a patient breathing at the wrong time, the goop that people drink to make an MRI more effective doesn't work well for some reason, etc.

An MRI is an important tool, but it is not flawless.

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