As medical professionals and neuroscientists seek to understand what goes on inside the human brain, they utilize different ways to look inside it. Although taking a look inside the brain may sound intimidating, technology has made it possible to examine this delicate organ without the need for surgical procedures.
Through advanced diagnostic procedures like the EEG, the MRI, and the fMRI, medical professionals get to examine the structure and activity inside the brain. The procedures also don’t require any surgery. If you’re wondering what the differences between an EEG, MRI, and fMRI are, here’s a handy guide to these diagnostic procedures:
EEG: What Is It and How Does It Work?
Electroencephalography (EEG) is a procedure that measures the electrical activity of the brain. As your brain works, the neurons (nerve cells) generate electrical signals to other neurons. The more active the neurons are, the greater the electrical activity they generate.
EEG detects the electrical activity of thousands of nerve cells in the brain through electrodes placed on the scalp. The electrodes then send the signals to an amplifier, which transfers the signals to a computer. The computer generates maps of brain activity that medical professionals can read for a diagnosis.
Although EEG is helpful for detecting abnormalities in the brain’s activity, such as in epilepsy, it has its limitations. For instance, it cannot accurately tell whether the signal came from a deeper brain region or one near the surface.
MRI: What Is It and How Does It Work?
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) generates a structural map of the brain. This procedure can help medical professionals determine the sizes of specific brain regions and detect any abnormalities, such as tumors. It does so through the use of complex machinery, aptly called an MRI machine.
The MRI machine has a set of strong magnets that generate a magnetic field. This magnetic field interacts with the protons in our body’s hydrogen atoms, aligning them in one direction.
Once the protons are aligned in one direction, the machine emits a radio pulse that interacts with the protons. The interaction ultimately produces energy that’s detected by the MRI machine’s sensors, and the signals are sent to a computer. By interpreting these signals, the computer generates images of the brain’s anatomical structure.
fMRI: What Is It and How Does It Work?
The MRI is useful for detecting the structure of the brain, but it does not show the brain’s activity at that given point in time. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), on the other hand, provides a map of both the structure and activity of the brain.
The fMRI does its job by detecting changes in the brain’s blood flow. As a brain region generates more activity, it receives more blood flow. Overall, the process shares similarities with MRI scans, where a computer detects energy emitted by the interaction between radio pulses and protons.
Some Important Differences
The diagnostic tools EEG, MRI, and fMRI vary significantly in their functions and what type of imaging information they provide. The apparatus they use also differs vastly—EEGs are portable, and MRI/fMRI machines are not. Setting up an EEG is much easier, while (f)MRI requires a certain level of knowledge and expertise. MRI and fMRI machines are significant investments, but they provide more powerful images required for accurate diagnosis.
Learn More About MRI & CT Scans
Brain imaging technology has evolved drastically through the years, and we now have multiple advanced ways to accurately map the brain. These include the EEG, MRI, and fMRI. They differ significantly regarding their functions and the information they provide. It’s useful to keep the information in this article in mind as you invest in imaging technology.
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