Structural Brain Imaging

Several diagnostic tests produce structural images of the brain. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), a high-resolution structural imaging technique, can show the shape, size, and contour of the brain. Each new generation of MRI scanners is more sensitive than the one before, and the newest ones can produce spectacular high-resolution images of the brain. Although brain atrophy can be quite subtle in the earliest stages of Alzheimer's disease, high-quality imaging can often reveal tissue loss in key brain structures, including the hippocampus.

Computed tomography (CT) scanning also yields a structural image of the brain. CT utilizes a rotating x-ray device coupled to a computer, which reassembles the data into a cross-sectional image. The image can be modeled three-dimensionally.

Both MRI and CT can identify structural abnormalities within the brain that are characteristic of many conditions that cause memory problems, including hydrocephalus (an excess of cerebrospinal fluid beneath the skull), subdural hematoma (blood pooling beneath the skull), or a brain tumor. All of these conditions increase pressure inside the brain, leading to memory impairment and other cognitive and neurological symptoms. These conditions are often treatable, particularly if detected early. ,109

Brain imaging is also used to diagnose stroke, which can impair memory and other brain functions.

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