Background: Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain is increasingly used both in research and in clinical medicine, and scanner hardware and MRI sequences are continually being improved. These advances are likely to result in the detection of unexpected, asymptomatic brain abnormalities, such as brain tumors, aneurysms, and subclinical vascular pathologic changes. We conducted a study to determine the prevalence of such incidental brain findings in the general population.
Methods: The subjects were 2000 persons (mean age, 63.3 years; range, 45.7 to 96.7) from the population-based Rotterdam Study in whom high-resolution, structural brain MRI (1.5 T) was performed according to a standardized protocol. Two trained reviewers recorded all brain abnormalities, including asymptomatic brain infarcts. The volume of white-matter lesions was quantified in milliliters with the use of automated postprocessing techniques. Two experienced neuroradiologists reviewed all incidental findings. All diagnoses were based on MRI findings, and additional histologic confirmation was not obtained.
Results: Asymptomatic brain infarcts were present in 145 persons (7.2%). Among findings other than infarcts, cerebral aneurysms (1.8%) and benign primary tumors (1.6%), mainly meningiomas, were the most frequent. The prevalence of asymptomatic brain infarcts and meningiomas increased with age, as did the volume of white-matter lesions, whereas aneurysms showed no age-related increase in prevalence.
Conclusions: Incidental brain findings on MRI, including subclinical vascular pathologic changes, are common in the general population. The most frequent are brain infarcts, followed by cerebral aneurysms and benign primary tumors. Information on the natural course of these lesions is needed to inform clinical management.
Copyright 2007 Massachusetts Medical Society.