Over one-quarter of patients presenting with a first episode of psychosis had some kind of abnormality on brain MRI scans, and about 6% of all findings were clinically relevant and required a change in patient management. Writing in JAMA Psychiatry, researchers from the UK and Germany say their study suggests that MRI should be used in the clinical workup of all patients presenting with psychosis.
Psychosis caused by another medical condition – called secondary psychosis – can have causes that produce brain abnormalities visible on MRI scans. These are findings like white-matter hyperintensities that – while not themselves a form of pathology – are sometimes associated with more serious conditions like cognitive decline.
MRI scans of people experiencing their first psychotic episode could detect some of these abnormalities before subsequent episodes occur. But at present there is no consensus as to whether MRI should be used in the evaluation of patients presenting with first-episode psychosis.
In a meta-analysis, researchers wanted to investigate the prevalence of intracranial radiological abnormalities on MRI scans of patients with first-episode psychosis. They reviewed 12 independent studies that covered a total of 1,613 patients. Findings across all the studies included:
- A prevalence rate of 26.4% for all radiological abnormalities
- A prevalence rate of 5.9% for clinically relevant abnormalities
- One in 18 patients had a change in management after an MRI scan
- White-matter hyperintensities were the most common abnormality, with a prevalence of 7.9% for all abnormalities and 0.9% among clinically relevant abnormalities
Given the impact of MRI on patient management, the authors suggested that performing routine scans on people after their first psychotic episode could have both clinical and economic benefits. This could be especially true due to the financial costs of failing to identify a clinically relevant abnormality that could lead to a later episode if not treated.
These findings may break the logjam over whether MRI should be routinely used in the evaluation of patients with first-episode psychosis. The authors note that while many of the abnormalities found on MRI in the studies they reviewed did not require a change in patient management, abnormalities could be harbingers of poorer patient outcomes, even if they don’t eventually lead to a diagnosis of secondary psychosis.