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How does an MRI detect a brain cyst?

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An Magnetic Resonance Imaging, or MRI, scan works by sending the patient through an enormous circular magnet, explains MedicineNet. The magnetic field aligns hydrogen atoms in the body in such a way that radio waves can move through and create a very faint signal that can be detected by the computers in the MRI machine. This signal can be interpreted by a connected computer and displayed as an image that can expose irregularities such as brain cysts.

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MRI scans can detect very small irregularities and produce a very high quality picture on its own, while the operator may also give the patient a contrast agent that can make the image even clearer in such situations that call for it, according to MedicineNet. MRI scans are used to scan the brain after other testing related to head problems have proven inconclusive. Other than cysts, it can pick up abnormalities such as tumors, bleeding, swelling, aneurysms and stroke, among others using the same procedure.

MRI scans are painless and, unlike X-ray scans, they avoid X-ray radiation exposure, notes MedicineNet. There are no known negative side effects of MRI scans. The only major limitation of MRI machines are that, since they use magnets, patients with permanent metallic fixtures on their bodies, such as artificial joints or limbs, surgical clips and bone plates, may have their MRI images distorted and are much less accurate. In extreme cases, such as patients with pacemakers, metal implants, artificial heart valves, metallic ear implants, bullet fragments or internal metal pumps, these patients cannot get an MRI scan at all, as the magnet may dangerously shift these objects in the patient's body.

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