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Can brain scans diagnose schizophrenia?

Dr. Jeanne Morrison, PhD
Family Practitioner
Images from brain scans cannot conclusively diagnose schizophrenia. However, some doctors do use brain scans as part of the diagnostic process. There are two primary types of brain scans: those using magnetic fields, and those using radiation. Brain scans pose little risk to human health in most cases, although there is a small risk from radiation exposure. Brain scans can be useful when diagnosing mental illness, since they can help rule out other medical conditions that might be causing the symptoms. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, brain scans can identify medical conditions including:
  • Brain diseases and infections
  • Head injuries and brain damage
  • Stroke
Brain scans are not always used to diagnose illness because they are quite expensive and are not always covered by health insurance plans.
Douglas E. Severance, MD
Family Medicine
Unfortunately, brain scans are not able to diagnose schizophrenia at the current time. Brain scans can be useful for schizophrenia in other ways. Scientists have observed abnormalities in the brains of people with schizophrenia when using computed topography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. The best diagnosis for schizophrenia is an intensive group of assessments, including medical and blood tests, and a thorough psychological history and evaluation. Family members and friends may also be interviewed about the person's symptoms. To be diagnosed with schizophrenia, a person's symptoms must last for at least six months and cause a significant amount of impairment in his or her life.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.