The creation of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology provided radiologists and physicians with a new world of understanding regarding the human brain. Ever since, MRI testing has become the standard in diagnostic medicine. The technology has traditionally been used to diagnose issues related to soft tissue, such as problems with joints, cartilage, ligaments, and tendons. It’s also particularly useful in diagnosing problems in the brain, heart, chest/lung, and circulatory system. MRI technology is a very useful tool, and in recent years we’re seeing it used to help diagnose conditions like cerebral palsy, which are difficult to recognize in newborns and infants but are now able to be diagnosed and researched through the use of this technology.
Cerebral palsy is a neurological disorder that affects movement, muscle tone, and/or posture in individuals, usually starting in early infancy as a result of brain injury in the cerebral cortex — the outer part of the brain that is associated with motor skills.
Oftentimes the disorder develops before, during, or shortly after birth for a variety of different reasons; and despite its commonality, researchers are still investigating the causes and risk factors associated with cerebral palsy.
For years, the popular belief was that asphyxia (lack of oxygen) during complicated childbirth was the main reason for the brain injury that led to the development of cerebral palsy (aside from traumatic brain injuries in infants). But, years of improvements in delivery care have not lessened the rate of cerebral palsy.
This led doctors to look for other possible factors and early indications that could provide insight into the causes of cerebral palsy. Children with cerebral palsy who were diagnosed but didn’t have a clear cause for the condition underwent an MRI test for further evaluation.
How Can MRI Testing Be Used To Help Children With Cerebral Palsy?
Mutations in genes that cause brain abnormalities
Maternal infections that affect the fetus
Fetal stroke due to a lack of blood flow (issues in the placenta or hypertension in the mother)
Infant infections that cause inflammation in or around the brain
Low birth weight
Breech births (feet-first)
Rh blood type incompatibility between mother and child
Traumatic brain injury
Lack of oxygen to the brain (asphyxia)
For the parents of children with cerebral palsy, the fact that their children will never be cured, or the self-blame that is often associated with the disorder, can be very deterring; and the question may be “what is the benefit of an MRI?” True, an MRI will not improve the prognosis or treat the disorder, but it can provide insight as to why the disorder occurred. This is particularly important for parents who are considering having more children.
While many doctors will use an MRI test to diagnose cerebral palsy, others opt for cheaper options that can also deliver a diagnosis, such as a cranial ultrasound. By choosing not to follow up with an MRI, a lot of important information may be missed. This information is not only useful to the parent, but to the doctors as well in determining the treatment of the disorder.
MRI testing has already taken us a long way in defining cerebral palsy, but research is still being conducted. Because of this, we always urge every parent whose child has cerebral palsy with an unknown cause to undergo an MRI.