Common Diagnostic Tests
This information is intended to give a broad overview of these tests and is not intended to be a comprehensive list of the benefits and risks associated with these tests. Should you have questions about any of the information presented here, please consult your physician during your next office visit.
Today, a variety of tests are available to help physicians diagnose and treat Neurosurgical conditions. In some cases, one test may not give a clear picture of the problem and your physician may order further testing. Some tests require you to be off work for a day or have someone to drive you home, whereas others do not. Your Patient Care Coordinator will advise you about the specific instructions for each test as well as give you directions where to go for the procedure.
MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging)
To diagnose and treat various conditions in the spine and brain, an MRI is often used. The MRI machine can be described as a large tunnel that, when a person is placed inside, can generate pictures of the spine, showing the condition of the discs and vertebrae. Sometimes, an MRI is performed with and without Gadolinium. This is an intravenous dye that is given to help highlight certain conditions on the MRI film. Today, several types of MRI's are available, including an Open MRI, for large or claustrophobic patients.
CT (CAT Scan)
CT Scans are also commonly used to aid in diagnosing conditions of the spine and brain. A CT machine is often described as a "doughnut" that patients pass through. CT scans also generate pictures of the spine, showing the condition of the discs and vertebrae. Sometimes CT Scans are used in conjunction with other tests.
A Myelogram/CT may be ordered if a regular MRI or CT is unclear, or if more than one level of the spine is in question. During a Myelogram, a neuroradiologist injects special dye into the spinal canal. The dye moves along the nerves, outlining them as they leave the spine to travel into the body. If dye does not outline a nerve root, it may be an indication that the nerve is being pinched. A CT scan is performed after a Myelogram to take a picture of the nerve roots outlined in dye, giving the physician as much information as possible. Myelograms are done on an outpatient basis, but patients should plan to take it easy the rest of the day after the test is performed.
A discogram is an outpatient procedure performed by a neuroradiologist. Dye is injected into different levels of the spine in an effort to reproduce a patient's pain. It is most commonly done to determine a specific level of the spine involved in a patient's pain. A CT scan is performed after a discogram to give the physician as much information as possible about a particular condition. Discograms are done on an outpatient basis, but patients should plan to take it easy the rest of the day after the test is performed.
EMG/NCV (Nerve Conduction Study)
Nerve Conduction Studies are performed by a neurologist or physiatrist. A series of electrical currents ares sent down the nerves to determine how well they are functioning. This test is most commonly used to diagnose Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and Ulnar Neuropathy, but can be used in conjunction with other tests to help diagnose spinal conditions.
An X-ray is basically a picture of your bones. It can be used alone to diagnose some conditions, or in conjunction with other tests such as an MRI or Myelogram to diagnose others. This test does not take very long to do, and does not require you to have a driver to take you home afterward.