What are the limitations of MRI in the evaluation of multiple sclerosis (MS)?

Updated: Mar 27, 2019
  • Author: James A Wilson, MD, MSc, FRCPC; Chief Editor: James G Smirniotopoulos, MD  more...
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In virtually all patients with clinically well-established MS, MRI scans demonstrate the corresponding changes. False-negative findings occur more frequently in patients with early MS and a minimal clinical history of neurologic impairment than in other patients.

O'Riordan et al prospectively found that in 3 of 27 patients with normal MRI findings, MS subsequently developed. [27] However, the patients with normal MRI findings all developed lesions detectable on MRI scans when the disease became established. Similarly, as patients are followed for longer periods, the rate of false-positive findings decreases, because in many patients with abnormal MRI findings after a single neurologic event, the clinical criteria for MS eventually develop.

Gadolinium-based contrast agents have been linked to the development of nephrogenic systemic fibrosis (NSF), also called nephrogenic fibrosing dermopathy (NFD). The disease has occurred in patients with moderate to end-stage renal disease after being given a gadolinium-based contrast agent to enhance MRI or MR angiography scans. NSF/NFD is a debilitating and sometimes fatal disease. Characteristics include red or dark patches on the skin; burning, itching, swelling, hardening, and tightening of the skin; yellow spots on the whites of the eyes; joint stiffness with trouble moving or straightening the arms, hands, legs, or feet; pain deep in the hip bones or ribs; and muscle weakness.

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