“Since Most Headaches Are Benign, Guidelines Recommend Against Routine MRIs Or CT Scans. Yet Doctors Frequently Order These Expensive Scans Anyway…”

Are physicians practicing defensive medicine or are we demanding unnecessary test?

The CBS News report noted “Among the reasons these tests are not recommended is that they can often find some abnormality, which although benign, could lead to further unnecessary tests and treatment…” “In 1 to 3 percent of people you will find something on the MRI, whether it be a tumor or blood vessel malformation. You don’t want to find something you weren’t looking for. It can be anxiety provoking…”

“The number-one reason physicians give is patient reassurance. It’s harder to talk a patient out of it than to just get the scan…” “In addition, doctors order scans out of fear they might miss a serious condition and be sued for misdiagnosis…”

The other side of the story…

“Though this study shows levels of imaging that are undoubtedly excessive and costs that almost certainly exceed the benefits, it does not measure or discuss the benefits of brain imaging in patients with headache…,” “These benefits include finding a brain tumor, stroke, brain abscess and bleeding into the brain…” “Reassuring worried patients that they do not have a serious or life-threatening condition is important…” “In addition, scans reduce the doctor’s concern that they might have missed a serious condition, as well as concerns about the liability that may arise from a failure to diagnose.”

It is always a good idea to talk to your primary care practitioner, the clinician who knows you best, about the pros and cons of imaging tests.

Click here to read the full CBS story “Too many unneeded brain scans for headaches, study suggests” by Steven Reinberg.


Doctor, Did You Wash Your Hands? ™ provides information to consumers on understanding, managing and navigating health care options.

Jonathan M. Metsch, Dr.P.H., is Clinical Professor, Preventive Medicine, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai; and Adjunct Professor, Baruch College ( C.U.N.Y.), Rutgers School of Public Health, and Rutgers School of Public Affairs and Administration.

This blog shares general information about understanding and navigating the health care system. For specific medical advice about your own problems, issues and options talk to your personal physician.


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