Pediatric Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

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At Children’s Health℠, our specialized MRI facilities are designed specifically for children in order to get the highest quality images in the shortest amount of time. Our MRI scanners are certified by the American College of Radiology for image quality and our technologists are fully experienced in working with children of all ages with a wide range of conditions.

What is a Pediatric Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)?

Pediatric Magnetic Resonance Imaging, or MRI, is a machine with a circular tunnel in the middle used to take pictures. MRI uses radiofrequency to create specialized two- and three-dimensional images of your child’s body, without the use of radiation. MRI for children is versatile and especially useful to see tissues and organs anywhere in the body that otherwise may only be seen through surgery, such as:

  • Blood vessels
  • Bone marrow
  • Brain
  • Soft tissue, muscle, ligaments, tendons and cartilage
  • Spine

What is the Kids Can MRI program?

Kids Can is a free program new to Children’s Health aimed at reducing pediatric MRIs with anesthesia for children six years old and up.

Research has shown that children who receive preparation and participate in a practice session cope better with procedures and are less anxious. Children who participate in this program have proven highly successful.

If you choose to participate in the “Kids Can” program, please let us know when you are scheduling the MRI. Our team will provide you with essential preparation information and materials to begin using at home to help him successfully complete the MRI scan.

Please email kidscan@childrens.com with any further questions.

What should we expect before a Pediatric Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)?

Once you’ve arrived for your child’s appointment, a member of the radiology team will walk you back to our MRI preparation area. We will complete any pre-procedural assessment, screening forms, and your child will change into a hospital gown. Some exams require contrast for the MRI pictures. This is administered orally or through intravenous therapy or an IV, depending on the type of study needed. If an IV is needed, we will do this prior to the start of the MRI scan.

If your child is nervous about his MRI, please let a team member know so we can utilize additional support from our child life specialist to promote a successful scan. Our child life specialist can work with children of all ages and parents to additionally prepare them for their MRI, helping to alleviate any anxiety. They use age appropriate language and teaching tools such as dolls, photos, or mock MRI scanners with sound clips to help children understand what to expect. 

When it’s time for your child’s scan, the MRI technologists will help position your child on the MRI table according to the type of scan required. While many children are positioned on their backs, some scans require children to lie on their stomachs or sides, head first or feet first. Our MRI technologists are experienced with pediatric patients of all ages and medical conditions and can provide ongoing support throughout the scan.

Sometimes, children require anesthesia during an MRI. If this is the case with your child, he or she will be cared for in our Radiology Anesthesia Unit by pediatric nurses and anesthesiologists before and after their imaging study. Following your child’s pre-procedural assessment by our team, they will be escorted to MRI and you will be asked to wait in the waiting room until the test is complete. The anesthesiologists are present throughout the procedure to continuously monitor your child and ensure their comfort. 

What should we expect during a Pediatric Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)?

The MRI machine looks like a small tunnel and the exam table moves through the opening of that tunnel. The scan is noisy, so your child will be given headphones to help block out some of the noise. Once your child is comfortable on the table, a red light will come on to help align his or her body to the correct position for the scan. Your child will then be moved into the tunnel of the MRI scanner. After the technologist leaves the scanning room, the MRI will begin. The technologist continues to monitor your child throughout the scan and is able to talk to them between picture sequences.

The MRI scan can take from 30 minutes to one hour for each body part being examined. Your child will need to remain as still as possible during the scan. Movement during the scan can result in blurry images that are difficult for radiologists to review. To help your child hold still, he will have the option of watching a movie or listening to music during the scan. A child can also bring a small comfort item into the scanner to help them feel safe and secure. The item must not contain any metal and will be screened for safety prior to approval.

If your child is completing his scan anesthesia free, one parent/guardian can be present during the MRI to remind the child to hold still and help them remain calm. That parent/guardian must complete the MRI safety screening form in order to be present during the scan. 

How do I prepare my child for a Pediatric Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)?

Studies show that children and parents cope better with medical procedures when they are prepared ahead of time. We recommend that you talk to your child about what to expect prior to his or her scheduled appointment using the tips and information below. Talking to children before allows them a few days to process the information and ask any questions to better understand what to expect. Although the procedure is not painful, sometimes children feel nervous when they don’t know what to expect or are doing something new for the first time.

When should I talk to my child about his Pediatric Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)?

  • Preschool: day of the procedure 
  • School-Age: 2-3 days before 
  • Adolescent: 1-2 weeks before  

How can I help them before the Pediatric Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)?

Be honest and provide simple explanations about what to expect. Children need to know what they will see, feel, and hear during procedures. 

  • See: When entering the MRI room, they will see a large machine with a tunnel in the middle. This is the camera. During the scan, they might be watching a movie.  
  • Feel: MRI’s do not hurt. If the scan is ordered with contrast, they will need an IV before the scan starts.  
  • Hear: The machine is noisy. They will hear various beeping and/or knocking sounds. They will be given headphones to hear the movie or music while also reducing the sounds of the machine.

Allow your child to ask questions about the upcoming experience.

  • If you do not know how to answer your child’s questions, it’s okay to say “I don’t know.”
  • Write down any questions you want to ask before the procedure or call the hospital to find out in advance.  

Follow your child’s lead.

  • If they do not want to know about the procedure, do not force a discussion or overwhelm them with information. 

Practice makes perfect! It’s very important for your child to remain still during the pictures.

  • Create a game encouraging your child to practice holding still. Set a timer for 2 minutes and gradually increase time up to 5-6 minutes. It can be challenging to hold still on the day of the appointment without any prior practice. 

What should we bring to the Pediatric Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)?

Your child can bring a comfort item (blanket or stuffed animal) to hold or favorite DVD to encourage distraction during the scan. A selection of DVD’s will be available if your child does not have a preferred movie. We value parental presence and support during procedures. You will need to complete a MRI screening form on the day of the appointment in order to stay in the MRI suite during his scan. 

FAQs

Why is my child having an MRI scan instead of an X-ray?

While MRI and X-ray are both imaging techniques, MRI can take more detailed 3-D images of organs, tissues and blood vessels without exposing your child to radiation.

Will my child feel any pain with the MRI?

Your child will feel no pain during the exam. Some children dislike the sound of the machine and small space inside the MRI tunnel.

Can I stay with my child during the MRI? 

Yes, if your child is scheduled without anesthesia. You will be required to complete an MRI safety screening form. 

If your child requires anesthesia for his or her study, you will be asked to wait in the waiting room until the test is completed. We understand this can be stressful and we do all we can to make sure that you are separated from your child for the shortest amount of time possible.

What if I am interested in having my child complete the MRI without anesthesia?

Please email kidscan@childrens.com for more information about ways we provide support to children going anesthesia free for MRI scans.  

Resources

National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Engineering

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