I expect that nearly all MSers will have had a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan. It can identify damaged myelin using an electro magbet.
MRI is a technique used in radiology to visualize internal structures of the body in 3D. An MRI scanner is a large powerful magnet that constructs the X-Ray image of the scanned area of the body. It will show lesions, areas where there is damaged myelin.
Why an MRI
The strong magnetic fields generate an image showing lesions on the spinal cord or damaged myelin sheath. ?The Gadolinium enhanced images make it easier to identify the damage.
When it is your turn for a scan you go into a room where there is a huge machine. You lie on a board, your head is put in a sort of cage, so it cannot move. I was also given a panic button, not too sure if it was reassuring or made me more nervous. Then you are slid into a torpedo-like tube which is in the middle of the scanner. This tube is only about 70cm diameter. Scary? Yes it is. You can not move the part of your body that is being scanned, in my case the head. If you do get claustrophobia then this is an almost definite no-no.
You are in the scanner
Once the process starts there are a series of loud rhythmic noises varying in intensity and rhythm and this goes on for about 15 minutes. During the scan I shut my eyes, try to relax and think of something else. Oh I forgot to mention, a pair of headphones is clamped onto your head to reduce the noise.
Not once but twice
After 15 minutes of bashing and banging there was silence and I was pulled out and prior to the second scan I had an injection of Gadolinium. I have had to look this up in Wiki, its an element and a rare earth metal. It is used as an MRI contrasting agent. So, I had the injection and the process was repeated. It does not hurt but I was relieved when it was all over.
I found MRI scan of someone with MS before and after with Gadolinium but the explanation was too complicated. Instead you have an image of the brain of someone who has had a stroke. On the left is an image without contrast, right an image with the contrast medium. Does this help?
Once injected, gadolinium-based contrast agents accumulate in abnormal tissues of the brain and body. This accumulation provides a greater contrast between normal and abnormal tissues, it makes it easier for doctors to locate uncommon cell growths and tumours. In the case of multiple sclerosis it highlights the lesions or scaring of the myelin in the brain.
The Gadolinium is eliminated from the body by the kidneys, phew, that makes me feel a whole lot better.
MRI scanner costs £1.4 million
Curiosity got the better of me and I asked about costs of an MRI scanner. The operator said that they cost £500 per hour to run. This assumes it is in use from 8am to 8pm as well as 9am to 5 pm over the weekends. After 7 years they are replaced. I haven’t done the maths but it must be one hell of a lot of money. Hang on, I’ve just worked it out, the cost for one scanner works out at just under £1.4 million. I knew they were expensive bits of kit but not at this level. If you have an MRI appointment don’t miss it.
So far I’ve had 3, one for the original diagnosis and two for the trial.