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Brain scans

New Danger: Medical Industry Pushes Brain Scans for Healthy

Wednesday, October 07, 2009 by: S. L. Baker, features writer
Tags: brain scans, medical imaging, brain health

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(NaturalNews) Technological advances, especially in critical emergency medical situations, can be life-saving. For example, scans of the body can locate with great precision a bullet that needs to be removed from near a vital organ, or detail how a shattered bone needs to be treated. But there's growing and worrisome evidence that the medical industry is pushing a variety of costly scans on the healthy and well, ignoring possible side effects (https://www.naturalnews.com/026946_CT_scans_c...). The latest target for those selling scans-for-no-good-medical-reason? Your brain.

A new study by University of Edinburgh scientists has raised concerns about the growing market for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain screening tests, which people can pay for out-of-pocket as part of a general health screening. So why would anyone who has no symptoms or valid reason to suspect a brain malady want one of these high price scans? The Scottish researchers noted the tests are increasingly popular with the so-called "worried well" who simply want to get rid of any fears they harbor about having an undiagnosed brain tumor, stroke or other condition.

The trouble is, these MRIs for the healthy are far more likely to do more harm than good. The research team reached their conclusion after analyzing the results of almost 20,000 brain scans from people who underwent the tests. These research subjects had no symptoms suggesting that they were suffering from an undiagnosed brain condition. Instead, they had the brain scans as part of general health screenings or they were volunteers for medical research.

The University of Edinburgh scientists found that less than three per cent of these healthy people had an abnormality on a brain MRI scan. But that didn't mean they had some awful problem that needed medical care. In fact, the researchers warn that even when an incidental abnormality -- such as a weakened blood vessel in the brain or a benign tumor -- is discovered on an MRI, there is no clear medical evidence that treating these conditions would do more good than harm.

What's more, the researchers concluded that finding out there's an abnormality in your brain, even if it is not known to need treatment or to have any life-threatening consequences, can create enormous anxiety. The result can rob people of their quality of life as they worry about whether to push for risky, potentially unnecessary brain surgery or leaving their condition untreated.

"The difficulty with these health check-ups is that in the small number of people who do harbor some undiagnosed brain condition, there is not a clear next step. We do not have enough medical evidence to know whether we should treat the abnormalities or just leave them be. Until we have that knowledge, we cannot be sure that commercial screening benefits people with incidental findings on their brain scan," Dr Rustam Al-Shahi Salman, a clinician scientist at the University of Edinburgh, said in a statement to the media.

Unlike computed tomography (CT) scans, MRIs don't use ionizing radiation so this point is often used in marketing campaigns encouraging healthy people to get these scans. But a lack of radiation exposure doesn't mean they are completely safe.

Instead of radiation, MRIs use a powerful magnetic field to create images of the internal structure and function of the body. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) web site states: "To date, there have been no documented significant side effects of the magnetic fields and radio waves used on the human body." However, because serious side effects of this test haven't been documented so far doesn't mean they don't exist and won't show up years down the road. In addition, when contrast dyes are used with MRIs, severe allergic reactions, although rare, can occur.

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