The clinical utility of structural neuroimaging in first-episode psychosis: A systematic review

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Forbes, Malcolm
Stefler, Denes
Velakoulis, Dennis
Stuckey, Stephen
Trudel, Jean-Francois
Eyre, Harris
Boyd, Melinda
Kisely, Steve
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Background: Australian and US guidelines recommend routine brain imaging, either computed tomography or magnetic resonance imaging, to exclude structural lesions in presentations for first-episode psychosis. The aim of this review was to examine the evidence for the appropriateness and clinical utility of this recommendation by assessing the frequency of abnormal radiological findings in computed tomography and magnetic resonance imaging scans among patients with first-episode psychosis.

Methods: PubMed and Embase database were searched from inception to April 2018 using appropriate MeSH or Emtree terms. Studies were included in the review if they reported data on computed tomography or magnetic resonance imaging scan findings of individuals with first-episode psychosis. No restriction on the geographical location of the study or the age of participants was applied. We calculated the percentage of abnormal radiological findings in each study, separately by the two diagnostic methods.

Results: There were 16 suitable studies published between 1988 and 2017, reporting data on an overall 2312 patients with first-episode psychosis. Most were observational studies with a retrospective design and the majority examined patients with computed tomography. While structural abnormalities were a relatively common finding, these rarely required clinical intervention (range across studies: 0–60.7%; median: 3.5%) and were very rarely the cause of the psychotic symptoms (range: 0–3.3%; median: 0%). Only 2 of the 16 studies concluded that brain imaging should be routinely ordered in first-episode psychosis.

Conclusion: There is insufficient evidence to suggest that brain imaging should be routinely ordered for patients presenting with first-episode psychosis without associated neurological or cognitive impairment. The appropriate screening procedure for structural brain lesions is conventional history-taking, mental status and neurological examination. If intracranial pathology is suspected clinically, a magnetic resonance imaging or computed tomography scan should be performed depending on the clinical signs, the acuity and the suspected pathology. National guidelines should reflect evidence-based data.

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Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry
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