Understanding Brain Scans: What You Need to Know

If you or a loved one has been experiencing symptoms that suggest a problem with the brain, your doctor may recommend a brain scan test. A brain scan is a medical imaging technique that can take a detailed picture of the brain structure and function. It is a non-invasive procedure that is commonly used as an essential tool to find the cause of symptoms like seizures, headaches, dizziness, memory loss, etc. In this article, we will provide an in-depth guide to understanding brain scans, including types, uses, benefits, risks, and more.

What is a Brain Scan?

A brain scan is a medical test that uses specialized imaging technology to take pictures of the brain. Among the different types of brain scans available, some of the most common include Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), Computerized Tomography (CT), Positron Emission Tomography (PET), Electroencephalogram (EEG), and Magnetoencephalography (MEG). Each of these options has its advantages and is used depending on the doctor’s recommendation and the specific condition that the patient experiences.

What Can Be Detected on a Brain Scan?

A brain scan can reveal a wide range of abnormalities that may cause symptoms. For instance, a CT or MRI scan can help in identifying:

  • tumors
  • inflammation
  • blood clots
  • bleeding in the brain
  • fluid buildup
  • aneurysms
  • signs of Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia
  • abnormalities in the brain’s vascular system
  • presence of stroke
  • multiple sclerosis

An EEG or MEG can detect unusual brain wave patterns, which could indicate problems such as epilepsy or seizures.

What Are the Different Types of Brain Scans?

As mentioned earlier, different types of brain scans are used for different purposes. Here are some of the most common types of brain scans:

MRI Scan

MRI is the most common type of brain scan. It uses a strong magnetic field and radio waves to produce detailed images of the brain. The images produced by an MRI scan are particularly useful at identifying structural abnormalities in the brain. MRI scans are also very effective at detecting signs of stroke, and they don’t expose patients to any radiation.

CT Scan

A CT scan uses X-rays to create a series of detailed cross-sectional images of the brain. CT scans are faster and cheaper than MRI scans and are often used in emergency situations, such as when a patient requires urgent treatment for head injuries. CT scans are also used to detect blood clots, swelling, or any fluid accumulation in the brain.

PET Scan

PET scans use radioactive isotopes to identify chemical reactions that are taking place in the brain. These reactions show how the brain is functioning, and any abnormalities detected by this test can indicate conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, brain tumors, and Parkinson’s disease.


EEG monitors the electrical activity of the brain. It can help in identifying different types of seizures and epilepsy. The procedure is painless, and no radiation is involved.


MEG senses tiny magnetic fields that are produced by the brain’s electrical activity. It is used to analyze the brain’s function in more detail than an EEG.

Is a CT Scan the Same as an MRI?

No, a CT scan and an MRI are not the same thing. A CT scan uses X-rays, while an MRI scan uses a magnetic field and radio waves. Although both scans can create detailed images of the brain, they work in different ways. Generally speaking, an MRI scan is considered safer because it doesn’t use any ionizing radiation, whereas CT scans are known to use a small amount of ionizing radiation.

Which Is Better, MRI, or CT Scan for Brain?

It is not a question of which is better; both MRI and CT scans are useful tools that can help doctors diagnose brain disorders. However, the patient’s medical history and individual circumstances dictate which test is recommended. For instance, an MRI scan is a better option when detecting structural changes in the brain, while a CT scan is better at identifying acute injuries like bleeding or skull fractures.

How to Get a Brain Scan

If your physician recommends that you undergo a brain scan, they may work with a diagnostic imaging center or a hospital that has the necessary equipment. Before getting a brain scan, your doctor will recommend the appropriate type of scan, depending on your symptoms. Most scans take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour to perform, and patients can go home immediately after the procedure.

Brain Scans for Mental Illness

Any of the above-listed brain scans can help in detecting certain mental illnesses. A PET scan, for instance, can detect the severity of psychiatric symptoms associated with depression or anxiety. It can also detect the stage or advancement of dementia by identifying regions of the brain that are degenerating. An EEG can identify seizure disorders in patients experiencing conditions like depression, anxiety, or schizophrenia.

Can I Get a Brain Scan for Fun?

No, getting a brain scan for fun isn’t encouraged. Brain scans are medical procedures that are used for identifying health conditions. They aren’t designed to be recreational activities. Moreover, brain scans require exposure to radiation, which can cause harm when undergone excessively.

What is a Scan of the Brain Called?

The process of examining the brain with medical equipment to see the structure and function is called a brain scan. Depending on the scan’s type and purpose, it may be called an MRI, CT scan, PET scan, EEG, or MEG.

Brain Scan ECG

There is no such thing as a brain scan ECG. An ECG tests the electrical activity of the heart, and it is not related to a brain scan.


In conclusion, a brain scan is a crucial diagnostic tool that can help doctors identify different problems in the brain. Whether it’s through an MRI, CT scan, PET scan, EEG, or MEG, each type of brain scan has its purpose, and patients’ medical history and individual circumstances can help guide their physician’s choice of scan. Brain scans are safe and non-invasive, but they require medical supervision and should only be performed by qualified medical professionals.