The value of repeat neuroimaging for epilepsy at a tertiary referral centre: 16 years of experience

Epilepsy Res. 2013 Aug;105(3):349-55. doi: 10.1016/j.eplepsyres.2013.02.022. Epub 2013 Mar 26.


Purpose: Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is the investigation of choice for detecting structural lesions that underlie and may accompany epilepsy. Despite advances in imaging technology, 20-30% of patients with refractory focal epilepsy have normal MRI scans. We evaluated the role of repeated imaging with improved MRI technology - an increase in field strength from 1.5T to 3T and superior head coils - in detecting pathology not previously seen.

Methods: Retrospective review of a large cohort of patients attending a tertiary epilepsy referral centre who underwent MRI at 1.5T (1995-2004) and subsequently 3T (2004-2011) with improved head coils. Scan reports were reviewed for the diagnoses and medical notes for the epilepsy classification.

Results: 804 patients underwent imaging on both scanners, the majority with focal epilepsy (87%). On repeat scanning at 3T, 37% of scans were normal and 20% showed incidental findings. Positive findings included hippocampal sclerosis (13%), malformations of cortical development (8%), other abnormalities (4%) and previous surgery (18%). A total of 37 (5%) relevant new diagnoses were made on the 3T scans not previously seen at 1.5T. The most common new findings were hippocampal sclerosis, focal cortical dysplasia and dysembryoplastic neuroepithelial tumour. These findings affected patient management with several patients undergoing neurosurgery.

Conclusions: The higher field strength and improved head coils were associated with a clinically relevant increased diagnostic yield from MRI. This highlights the importance of technological advances and suggests that rescanning patients with focal epilepsy and previously negative scans is clinically beneficial.

Keywords: Epilepsy surgery; Focal cortical dysplasia; Refractory epilepsy; Structural MRI.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Electroencephalography
  • Epilepsy / classification
  • Epilepsy / diagnosis*
  • Epilepsy / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Referral and Consultation
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed, Single-Photon