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Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging - Brain

Last updated Feb. 5, 2019

Approved by: Maulik P. Purohit MD MPH

National Institute of Mental Health

Functional MRI image comparing brain activity when exposed to different stimuli.


Background Information:

What are the other Names for the Procedure?

  • Brain fMRI Scan
  • fMRI - Brain
  • Functional MRI - Brain

What is Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Scan of the Brain radiology procedure? (General Explanation)

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a noninvasive medical test that uses a powerful magnetic field to produce images of soft tissues, bones, organs, and all other internal body structures
  • Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) - Brain uses MR imaging technique to measure metabolic changes taking place in the active part of the brain

What part of the Body does the Procedure involve?

The Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging - Brain procedure involves the brain region.

Why is the Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Scan of the Brain radiology procedure Performed?

Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging - Brain is used for the following reasons:

  • To check how normal, injured, or diseased the brain is
  • To assess potential risks of a surgery of the brain
  • To assess the effects of Alzheimer’s disease, trauma, or injury to the brain
  • It helps examine the brain anatomy and to check, which parts of the brain control speech, movement, sensation, or thought functions
  • The growth of brain tumors can also be monitored using this procedure

What is the Equipment used? (Description of Equipment)

The equipment for Brain fMRI Scan consists of the following:

  • An fMRI equipment is a large cylinder shaped tube that is surrounded by circular magnet
  • The patient lies on the table, which slides back and forth in the cylinder tube
  • In some MRI equipment, called short-bore systems, the magnet does not completely surround the patient. This is particularly helpful for patients who are obese, or for those who are afraid of being inside a closed tube

What are the Recent Advances in the Procedure?

There have been no recent advances to replace the Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging procedure. 

What is the Cost of performing the Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Scan of the Brain radiology procedure?

The cost of the Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging – Brain procedure depends on a variety of factors, such as the type of your health insurance, annual deductibles, co-pay requirements, out-of-network and in-network of your healthcare providers and healthcare facilities.

In many cases, an estimate may be provided before the procedure. The final amount depends upon the findings during the surgery/procedure and post-operative care that is necessary. 

When do you need a Second Opinion, prior to the Procedure?

  • It is normal for a patient to feel uncomfortable and confused with a sudden inflow of information regarding Brain fMRI Scan procedure and what needs to be done
  • If the patient needs further reassurance or a second opinion, a physician will almost always assist in recommending another physician
  • Also, if the procedure involves multiple steps or has many alternatives, the patient may take a second opinion to understand and choose the best one. They can also choose to approach another physician independently 

What are some Helpful Resources?

http://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?pg=fmribrain (accessed on 08/03/2014)

Prior to Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Scan of the Brain radiology procedure:

How does the Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Scan of the Brain radiology procedure work?

The Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging - Brain procedure works in the following manner:

  • The fMRI uses magnets instead of ionizing radiation
  • An electrical current is passed through coils, in order to produce a magnetic field
  • Other coils send and receive radio waves; signals are then detected by the coils
  • A computer processes the signals and generates images, showing a thin slice of the body
  • In fMRI, the patient is asked to do a particular task during imaging to increase metabolic activity in the area of brain responsible for that task. Increasing metabolic activity in that particular area of the brain results in chemical changes, extra oxygen delivery, and expanding vessels; these changes are recorded on the MRI scan 

How is the Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Scan of the Brain radiology procedure Performed?

The Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging - Brain procedure is performed in the following manner:

  • The patient is positioned on a moveable examination table
  • For fMRI, the patient’s head is placed in a brace to hold it still
  • The patient may be given a mask, special goggles, or earphones, so audio-visual stimuli can be monitored while imaging
  • An intravenous (IV) line may be inserted into the patient’s arm, if contrast material is required for the procedure
  • The patient is asked to perform small tasks, such as rubbing a block of sandpaper, answering simple questions, or tapping their thumb against each of the fingers on the same hand
  • The patient has to remain still during the procedure, in order to avoid any blurriness of the images
  • The patient is moved into the MRI unit and images are taken, while the radiologist is checking the images in another room

Where is the Procedure Performed?

The Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging - Brain procedure is performed, either as an inpatient procedure or as an outpatient procedure, at a hospital. 

Who Performs the Procedure?

The fMRI Brain procedure is usually performed by a radiology technologist.

How long will the Procedure take?

  • The Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging - Brain procedure may take about 45 minutes
  • If the patient is required to have an MR spectroscopy, which provides additional information on the chemicals present in the body’s cells, it may take an extra 15 minutes

Who interprets the Result?

A radiologist analyzes the images of the Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging - Brain and informs the primary care physician, who will then contact the patient.

What Preparations are needed, prior to the Procedure?

The following preparations may be needed prior to a Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging - Brain:

  • The physician may evaluate the individual’s medical history to gain a comprehensive knowledge of the overall health status of the patient, including information related to the medications that are being currently taken
  • Do inform the medical professional if you have a history of any medical conditions, such as a heart disease, asthma, diabetes, or kidney disease
  • Do inform the medical professional about any allergies, especially related to barium or iodinated contrast material, which may be used in the procedure
  • It is advisable to wear comfortable and loose clothes. Avoid wearing any metal objects or jewelry, as it may interfere with the x-ray
  • It is highly recommended to inform your healthcare professional, if you are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • The patient must avoid eating or drinking at least 8 hours prior to the procedure, depending on when the procedure is arranged
  • It is recommended to notify the physician about any implants in the body, any metal objects in the body, such as pacemaker, nerve simulators, surgical staples, or artificial heart valves, braces, or dyed tattoos as they may interfere the imaging process
  • Patients with metal objects in their body may be required to have an x-ray taken before the fMRI
  • The patients may be required to be driven home, after the procedure, in some cases

What is the Consent Process before the Procedure?

A physician will request your consent for a Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging – Brain procedure using an Informed Consent Form.

Consent for the Procedure: A “consent” is your approval to undergo a procedure. A consent form is signed after the risks and benefits of the procedure, and alternative treatment options, are discussed. This process is called informed consent.

You must sign the forms only after you are totally satisfied with the answers to your questions. In case of minors and individuals unable to personally give their consent, the individual’s legal guardian or next of kin, shall give their consent for the procedure.

What are the Benefits versus Risks, for this Procedure?

Following are the benefits of the Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging – Brain procedure:

  • The fMRI is a noninvasive technique that does not involve the use any ionizing radiation
  • The contrast material used in MRI is less likely to produce allergic reactions, than the contrast material used in other procedures
  • The fMRI can also be used as a guidance for biopsy
  • It helps determine the structure of the organ and how it is working
  • fMRI not only detects abnormalities in the brain, but also assesses normal functional anatomy of the brain
  • The fMRI detects abnormalities that are obscured by bones

Following are the risks of the Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging – Brain procedure:

  • Generally, the patient going through the fMRI procedure has almost no risks associated with it
  • The fMRI uses a strong magnetic field, which may affect the medically-implanted metal devices
  • The patient may experience an allergic reaction, due to the contrast material used in the procedure, but it is very rare
  • There is a very rare chance of developing nephrogenic systemic fibrosis, if high doses of gadolinium contrast material are used in patients with very poor kidney function

What are the Limitations of the Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Scan of the Brain radiology procedure?

Following are the limitations of the Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging – Brain procedure:

  • MRI is a little expensive and takes more performing time, than other imaging techniques
  • The patient must remain still, in order to obtain high quality images in fMRI
  • It may be difficult for those who are obese, to fit into conventional MRI machines
  • Pregnant women are usually advised not to have MRI exams, unless these are deemed absolutely necessary
  • Additional tests may be recommended to make critical decisions, such as for a brain surgery 

What are some Questions for your Physician?

Some of the basic questions that you might ask your health care provider or physician are as follows:

  • What is the Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging – Brain procedure?
  • Why is this procedure necessary? How will it help?
  • How soon should I get it done? Is it an emergency?
  • Who are the medical personnel involved in this procedure?
  • Where is the procedure performed?
  • What are the risks while performing the procedure?
  • What are the complications that might take place, during recovery?
  • What are the possible side effects from the procedure? How can I minimize these side effects?
  • How long will it take to recover? When can I resume normal work?
  • How many such procedures have you (the physician) performed?
  • Are there any lifestyle restrictions or modifications required, after the procedure is performed?
  • Are there any follow-up tests, periodic visits to the healthcare facility required, after the procedure?
  • Is there any medication that needs to be taken for life, after the procedure?
  • What are the costs involved?

During the Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Scan of the Brain radiology procedure:

What is to be expected during the Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Scan of the Brain radiology procedure?

The following may be expected during the Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging – Brain procedure:

  • The patient may find it uncomfortable, lying still for a long period of time
  • If the patient has claustrophobia (fear of being closed-in), sedation may be used to help them relax
  • The patient may hear tapping or thumping sounds, when images are being taken and may relax between the imaging sequences. If the patient wants to avoid the noise of the machine, they may request ear plugs
  • The patient is usually alone in a room during the MRI procedure, which may bring about a feeling of discomfort in them. However, the technologist will be able to see, hear, and speak to the patient during the procedure
  • The patient may feel some warmth on the part of the body, where the images are taken
  • The patient may feel a cool and flushing sensation for a few minutes, when the contrast material is injected

What kind of Anesthesia is given, during the Procedure?

No anesthesia is given during the Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging – Brain procedure. 

How much Blood will you lose, during the Procedure?

There is no blood loss involved during the Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging – Brain procedure. 

What are the possible Risks and Complications during the Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Scan of the Brain radiology procedure?

The risks of the Functional MRI – Brain procedure include:

  • Generally, the patient undergoing the fMRI procedure has almost no risks associated with it
  • The fMRI uses a strong magnetic field; this may affect medically-implanted devices that are made of metal
  • The patient may experience an allergic reaction, due to the contrast material used in the procedure, but this is very rare
  • There is a very rare chance of developing nephrogenic systemic fibrosis, if high doses of gadolinium contrast material are used in patients with very poor kidney function 

What Post-Operative Care is needed at the Healthcare Facility after the Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Scan of the Brain radiology procedure?

There is no postoperative care necessary after a Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging – Brain procedure, at the healthcare facility. 

After the Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Scan of the Brain radiology procedure:

What is to be expected after the Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Scan of the Brain radiology procedure?

The following may be expected after a Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging – Brain procedure:

  • Very rarely, a patient may feel nauseous, due to the use of the contrast material
  • If the patient is allergic to the contrast material, the patient may experience hives, itchy eyes, or local pain, in rare cases. However, in such cases, doctors are available for immediate assistance 

When do you need to call your Physician?

If the patient is experiencing an allergic reaction from the contrast reaction, then do contact the physician immediately. 

What Post-Operative Care is needed at Home after the Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Scan of the Brain radiology procedure?

There is no postoperative care necessary after a Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging – Brain procedure. 

How long does it normally take to fully recover, from the Procedure?

The patient needs no recovery time after the Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging – Brain procedure.

Additional Information:

What happens to tissue (if any), taken out during the Procedure?

No tissue is extracted from the patient during a Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging – Brain procedure. 

When should you expect results from the pathologist regarding tissue taken out, during the Procedure?

Since no tissue is removed during the procedure, a pathologist does not get involved in the care of the patient. 

Who will you receive a Bill from, after the Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Scan of the Brain radiology procedure?

It is important to note that the number of bills that the patient may receive depends on the arrangement the healthcare facility has with the physician and other healthcare providers.

Sometimes, the patient may get a single bill that includes the healthcare facility and the consultant physician charges. Sometimes, the patient might get multiple bills depending on the healthcare provider involved. For instance, the patient may get a bill from:

  • The hospital, where the procedure is performed
  • The radiologist, performing the procedure
  • Healthcare providers, physicians, who are involved in the process

The patient is advised to inquire and confirm the type of billing, before the Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging – Brain procedure is performed.

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: Aug. 17, 2014
Last updated: Feb. 5, 2019