Pediatric MRI

If your child has been scheduled for an MRI, it means their doctor would like to have a closer look at their tissues or organs. MRI does not use radiation.

What is magnetic resonance imaging?

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses a large magnet, radio waves, and a computer to create detailed images of organs and internal structures. MRI provides different information than X-ray, ultrasound, or computed tomography (CT). For example, an MRI of the knee can provide information about ligaments and cartilage which is not visible on other exams. 

An MRI scanner is shaped like a tunnel with a motorized table that slides in and out of the tube. The exam is usually painless and quick. For some MRI exams, we will give your child a contrast agent through an intravenous line (IV) to make the organs and structures more visible on the images.

How can I help my child prepare for the exam?

If your child will be having an MRI with contrast, or if your child will be sedated for the exam, you will need to follow some preparation instructions. A nurse will provide you with instructions before your appointment.

On the day of the exam your child should wear comfortable clothes. Please leave all jewelry, hair clips, and other metal objects at home. If you have copies of prior exams, bring them with you to the appointment. Please make childcare arrangements for siblings as they will not be allowed into the exam room.

Please note that if you are pregnant, you will not be allowed in the room during the exam and may wish to make arrangements to have someone else be with your child.

What will happen during the test?

When you arrive for your appointment, your child may be asked to change into a gown. You will be allowed to accompany your child to the exam room.

If your child will be receiving contrast or sedation, a nurse will insert an IV, usually into their hand or arm. A technologist will then take you and your child into the MRI exam room and position them on the table with their head on a pillow or in a padded cradle. The technologist may place a plastic device called a coil around the area of the body that will be looked at. The technologist will leave the room to perform the scan, but they will be able to see, hear, and speak with your child at all times.

During the exam, the table will slide into the scanner. A red light may shine on your child’s body, which helps ensure that they are properly positioned. MRI scanners make loud buzzing and clicking sounds. This is normal, and we will give your child ear plugs to make them more comfortable.

An MRI takes from 30 minutes to one hour to complete.

What can I do to help my child feel comfortable during the exam?

Children sometimes find the MRI scanner a bit frightening. You can remain with your child in the imaging area during the exam to offer comfort and reassurance. We can also arrange to have a child life specialist at the appointment to help your child better cope with the stress of the procedure.

MRI Safety

MRI does not use radiation, and there are no known harmful side-effects associated with temporary exposure to the strong magnetic field used by MRI scanners.

If your child has an implanted metal object or device, the strong magnetic field could pose a risk. We will screen you and your child several times throughout the process to make sure you are safe to enter the magnetic field.

Many devices have been tested and determined to be safe for MRI. If your child has an implantable device, pins or screws, tattoos, shrapnel, or other non-removable metal objects in their body, our radiologists and technologists will evaluate the object and determine whether there is a safety issue.

After the exam

After the exam most children can immediately resume their normal activities. If your child was sedated, we will ask you to wait in the imaging area after the exam until they are reasonably alert.

A radiologist will analyze the MRI images and will share the results with the doctor who requested the exam. Your child’s doctor will then discuss the results with you.