Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and Cerebral Palsy

Birth Injury, Cerebral Palsy Diagnosis

MRI machine in front of huge smiling baby girl

When diagnosing cerebral palsy (CP) in children, doctors may use imaging procedures to gain insight into how a child’s nervous system is functioning. Neuroimaging procedures are tests that healthcare professionals can use to study seizures and related neuromuscular disorders in children. Learn more about neuroimaging through magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and cerebral palsy MRI evaluations.

What Is an MRI?

An MRI uses a magnetic field and pulses of radio wave activity to produce a three-dimensional view of the brain, showing doctors any abnormalities or lesions that may be present. In babies with CP, an MRI scan can detect hypoxic-ischemic lesions associated with hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE).

MRI is a preferred method of testing on babies because it can reveal intricate details about the structure of a child’s brain. However, while an MRI can help medical professionals study brain behavior in children, the scanning process can be loud and take up to one hour to complete. Your child’s doctor may recommend a mild sedative to help keep your child calm and still during the procedure.

Does Cerebral Palsy Show Up on an MRI?

As a parent, you may be wondering, “Does cerebral palsy show on an MRI?” Keep in mind that an MRI reveals what parts of a child’s brain look like, not how well the child’s brain is working. Medical professionals can sometimes perform an MRI in combination with magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS), which can provide insight into not only what is happening with the brain on a structural basis but also on a metabolic basis.

Two types of MRI may help diagnose CP:

  • An MRI scan of the brain allows doctors to see the definition of brain structure and detect abnormalities in the brain.
  • An MRI of the spinal cord can help identify spinal cord abnormalities in children with spastic legs, bowel complications, and bladder functioning disorders. These spinal cord abnormalities may be connected to CP or be considered a co-mitigating factor connected to CP.

An MRI can show the location and type of brain damage present and provide finer levels of details than a CT scan. Some metabolic disorders in children can resemble CP. Many of these metabolic disorders feature brain abnormalities or malformations that will show up on an MRI. An MRI, combined with other diagnostic tools, can help doctors distinguish between CP and a possible metabolic disorder.

How Effective Is Performing an MRI on Infants?

Advances in neuro MRI imaging have permitted earlier detection of CP in children. In a study published in JAMA Pediatrics on July 17, 2017, Iona Novak, Ph.D., of the University of Sydney, Lars Adde, Ph.D., of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, and their colleagues report that doctors can now diagnose CP before babies are 6 months old (going by the due date rather than delivery date). Historically, CP was not diagnosed until children were between the ages of 1 and 2 years old.

“High-quality evidence indicates that, for infants with newborn-detectable risks before 5 months’ corrected age, the general-movements assessment plus neonatal MRI is more than 95% accurate and is thus recommended,” according to Novak et al. “For infants with infant detectable risks after 5 months’ corrected age, the HINE (Hammersmith Infant Neurological Examination) plus neonatal MRI is more than 90% accurate and is therefore recommended.”

What Can an MRI Reveal About CP in Children?

MRI brain imaging studies of CP in children can reveal details that have helped medical researchers uncover clues about the timing and causes of CP. For example, they have learned that:

  • Brain malformations early in a baby’s development result in CP in about 10% to 15% of cases.
  • PVL, a form of brain damage, has been detected in both premature and full-term infants.
  • Some children with CP have damage to specific areas of the brain that are characteristic of hypoxic-ischemic brain injuries.
  • Brain images in 10% of children don’t reveal any of the abnormalities often linked with CP.

While imaging the brain does not generally change a CP prognosis, the images themselves can provide details to help doctors understand what may have contributed to the development of CP. This information may prove helpful to parents who are considering having more children.

If your child has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy, and you think that medical malpractice could be to blame, you may have a case and be eligible for compensation. Contact the Cerebral Palsy Family Lawyers at Janet, Janet & Suggs, LLC today. We’ve helped more than 30,000 families across the country uncover the best options for their legal case.



Reviewed by:
Trish Fletcher, MS, BSN, CRNP, NNP-BC, ALNC
Neonatal Nurse Practitioner | Birth Injury Legal Nurse Consultant

Tricia is a dedicated, focused, Birth Injury Legal Nurse Consultant and Neonatal Nurse Practitioner with more than 25 years of experience. Her strong clinical and critical thinking skills, paired with expertise caring for neonates in a Level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), ensures meticulous medical records review. READ FULL BIO

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