The role of MRI and CT of the brain in first episodes of psychosis

Clin Radiol. 2013 Mar;68(3):245-50. doi: 10.1016/j.crad.2012.07.010. Epub 2012 Sep 5.


Aim: To investigate whether imaging is associated with early detection of the organic causes of the first episode of psychosis (FEP).

Materials and methods: Individuals with FEP but no neurological signs referred to a tertiary centre for cerebral magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) were reviewed retrospectively. Two groups were evaluated with either CT or MRI; the two groups were independent and no individual underwent both CT and MRI.

Results: One hundred and twelve consecutive cerebral MRI and 204 consecutive CT examinations were identified. Three (2.7%) individuals had brain lesions [brain tumour and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) encephalopathy] potentially accountable for the psychosis at MRI. Seventy patients (62.5%) had incidental brain lesions, such as cerebral atrophy, small vessel ischaemic changes, unruptured Circle of Willis aneurysm, cavernoma, and arachnoid cysts at MRI. Three patients (1.5%) had focal brain lesions (primary or secondary tumours) potentially accountable for the psychosis at CT. One hundred and thirty-three patients (65.2%) had incidental brain lesions unrelated to the psychosis on CT scan. There was no significant difference between MRI and CT imaging in detecting organic disease potentially responsible for FEP (p < 0.001).

Conclusion: Routine MRI or CT imaging of the brain is unlikely to reveal disease leading to a significant change in management. MRI was comparable with CT in terms of diagnosis of both pathological and incidental cerebral lesions. Therefore, routine brain structural imaging of FEP in patients without focal neurology may not be routinely required and if imaging is requested then CT may function equally as well as MRI as the first-line investigation.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Brain / pathology
  • Brain Diseases / complications*
  • Brain Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Brain Diseases / pathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidental Findings
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Psychotic Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Psychotic Disorders / etiology*
  • Psychotic Disorders / pathology
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed / methods*