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Getting an MRI Head Scan

Some day, you may need a magnetic resonance image (MRI) head scan to diagnose the cause of a common condition, such as hearing loss, headache, vision problems, seizures, tumors, or stroke. When you have an implanted electronic device, however, you have to be careful about MRI scans. The good news is that all Medtronic DBS systems are designed so that an MRI head scan is possible with proper safeguards. In fact, only Medtronic offers deep brain stimulation systems that are FDA approved for MRI head scans, under specific conditions of use.

How Common Are MRI Head Scans?

MRI Pie Chart


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Of the 30 million MRI scans performed in the United States each year, 6.6 million - or 22% - are head scans

*IMV MRI Market Benchmark Report, 2010®

The MRI Challenge

People with implanted electronic devices have to be careful about MRI scans for this reason: MRI machines produce electromagnetic fields that can interact with and negatively affect the implanted device. If an implanted DBS system is not designed specifically to be compatible with MRIs, interactions can include:

  • Heat — the MRI can cause a DBS lead to overheat, which can damage surrounding tissue or the battery connected to the lead
  • Magnetic pull — If an implanted device is made with significant magnetic materials, the materials can be attracted to the MRI’s magnetic field. This causes them to move, which may cause discomfort. Medtronic DBS Therapy components are designed with minimal magnetic materials
  • Unintended stimulation — The MRI’s magnetic field may send voltage to the DBS lead, triggering unintended stimulation
  • Unintended functionality — The MRI’s magnetic field may cause the DBS system to turn off or on, or affect or disable other functions
  • Distorted MRI image — The DBS system can interfere with the imaging, causing distortions or completely blocking the image

Overcoming the Challenge

As outlined in your Medtronic Deep Brain Stimulation Patient Therapy Guide, Medtronic designed its DBS Therapy system so the effect of an MRI head scan is minimal. When conducted under specific guidelines from Medtronic, MRI technologists can safely perform an MRI head scan on people with an implanted Medtronic DBS system. If you do require an MRI, work with your doctor. Some preparation is needed prior to the scan.

Head Scans vs. Full-body Scans

While your Medtronic DBS system is compatible with MRI head scans under specific conditions, it’s not safe for full-body MRI scans. That’s because full-body scans require much more electromagnetic energy, so there’s a much greater risk of your leads heating up and causing damage.

Safety Resources for Your Healthcare Team

MRI technologists should always follow the Medtronic safety manual titled “MRI Guidelines for Medtronic Deep Brain Stimulation Systems.” It tells them how to check and set your DBS system prior to the MRI, and what type of MRI machine and settings they should use.

If you encounter a doctor or MRI technologist who seems unclear about MRI safety related to your Medtronic DBS system, show him or her your Medtronic Patient ID Card. The front of your card lists the model number of your DBS system. Your doctor can enter that model number on our MRI Safety website (www.medtronic.com/mri), listed on the back of your ID card. The website will provide FDA-approved information for safely conducting an MRI head scan with your Medtronic DBS device.

Our patient service representatives are also available to answer your questions at 800-510-6735.

Information on this site should not be used as a substitute for talking with your doctor. Always talk with your doctor about diagnosis and treatment information.

Last updated: 23 Apr 2014

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