How to read an MRI brain scan

Written by brian richards
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Radiologists spend many years in school and in residency learning how to read and interpret brain MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scans. Without the level of experience these doctors have, it is unlikely that you will be able to successfully read or diagnose problems based on scans. However, reading MRI brain scans can help you to become familiar with the anatomy of your own brain, and make you more familiar and comfortable with any abnormalities that your doctor may have pointed out to you.

Skill level:


  1. 1

    Position the MRI film in front of a bright light source to illuminate the film. A flat, even light box is best; however, a normal household lamp will work as well. Make sure to clean any dust from the lamp bulb and from the MRI film to avoid any distracting highlights or shadows.

  2. 2

    Identify the brain. The brain will look like a large, grey mass with dark wrinkles and crevices running through it. It may be difficult to distinguish between the brain and other areas of the head in certain views.

  3. 3

    Identify the view of the brain. A sagittal view is a picture of the brain laterally (from the side) in which the features of the face will be visible. An axial view is a photograph from the top of the brain, which will make the brain look like a long oval. A coronal view is a picture from the front of the brain, with clearly identified dark patches where the eyes and mouth are and bright white patches around the sinuses.

  4. 4

    Locate the parts and lobes of the brain. The frontal lobe is the front part of the brain, and will only be identifiable in sagittal and axial views. The occipital lobe is in the rear of the brain and is also only identifiable in sagittal and axial views. The temporal lobes are on the sides of the brain and can most easily be seen in the axial or coronal views. The parietal lobe on the top can be spotted in the coronal view.

  5. 5

    Compare your MRI to MRIs of normal, healthy brains, making sure to keep the view consistent. If you have old MRI scans of your brain, these also serve as useful comparators.

  6. 6

    Look for any asymmetrical dark areas which may suggest a lesion. Bright white areas may suggest tumours.

Tips and warnings

  • Do not rely on your own diagnosis unless you are a trained radiologist. Only a doctor can competently analyse your MRI brain scan.

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