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Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

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KEY POINTS

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses a strong magnetic field and radio waves to show detailed pictures of the organs and structures in your child’s body.
  • MRIs are used to diagnose injuries and diseases.
  • With most machines, your child will lie on a narrow bed that moves through the MRI machine. Most MRIs take 30 to 60 minutes and some take longer. Tell your child’s provider if your child has anxiety or fears when in small or crowded spaces.

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What is magnetic resonance imaging (MRI?)

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses a strong magnetic field and radio waves to show detailed pictures of the organs and structures in your child’s body. While an X-ray is very good at showing bones, an MRI can show more than an X-ray, such as muscles, ligaments, cartilage, blood flow, and organs such as the eyes, brain, and heart.

When is it used?

Healthcare providers use MRI scans to see detailed images of almost any place in the body. For example, they may use them to:

  • Diagnose injuries and diseases of bones and the soft tissues that connect them to muscles or other bones
  • Diagnose conditions that affect the brain or spinal cord
  • Look for causes of developmental delay
  • Diagnose cancer

If your child has any metal in his or her body, such as plates or screws from a previous surgery or a cochlear implant, tell your child’s healthcare provider. Some types of implants should not be scanned.

How do I prepare my child for this procedure?

Usually no preparation is needed for an MRI, but in some cases your child’s healthcare provider may give you instructions to follow before the scan. Your child’s instructions may include:

  • Changes to how your child takes medicines
  • What your child can eat and drink before the MRI
  • Getting other tests or procedures

Metal will interfere with the scan, so take the following precautions:

  • Make sure your child wears loose, comfortable clothing without metal fastenings such as zippers or clasps.
  • Your child should not wear jewelry.
  • If your child has an external medical device, he or she may need to remove it before the MRI scan.
  • Some medicine patches put on the skin contain metals. The patches could overheat during an MRI and burn your child’s skin. If your child wears a medicine patch, it may need to be removed before an MRI. Talk with your child’s healthcare provider about this.

Most MRI machines are tunnel shaped, which means your child will be in a small space during the scan. Tell the healthcare provider if your child has anxiety or fears when in small or crowded spaces. The provider may give your child medicine to help him or her feel less nervous, or your child may be able to go to a site with an open MRI scanner.

What happens during the procedure?

With most machines, your child will lie on a narrow bed that moves through the MRI machine. Some machines move over the bed. Your child will need to be very still during the scan so the pictures will not be blurry. Your child may be given medicines that make him or her feel relaxed, but he or she may stay awake during the test if he or she is older. Sometimes your child will be given IV fluid called contrast before the MRI. Contrast can make areas in the body easier to see in the pictures created by the MRI.

Most MRIs take 30 to 60 minutes and some take longer. Your child will hear knocking and a whirring sound while the pictures are being taken. If you are concerned that the noise will bother your child, ask the person doing the scan if your child can wear earplugs or listen to music during the scan. Your child will be able to speak with the person doing the scan so he or she can let them know about any problems.

When the scan is over your child may go home.

Ask your child’s healthcare provider when and how you will get the results.

What are the risks of this procedure?

Every procedure or treatment has risks. Some possible risks of this procedure include:

  • In rare cases your child may have an allergic reaction to contrast used during the procedure.

Ask your child’s healthcare provider how the risks apply to your child. Be sure to discuss any other questions or concerns that you may have.

Developed by Change Healthcare.
Pediatric Advisor 2019.4 published by Change Healthcare.
Last modified: 2019-05-01
Last reviewed: 2019-04-28
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2018 Change Healthcare LLC and/or one of its subsidiaries
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