Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Procedure

Scheduling an MRI

MRI machine

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) uses a combination of a large magnet, radio waves and a computer to produce detailed pictures of the inside of the body. It is important that the patient stay still during the procedure. If a parent is concerned that the child may be unable to remain still for an MRI, medication can be administered to help him or her relax or sleep during the procedure. Parents can discuss this option with the child’s doctor when scheduling an MRI. One parent is allowed to stay with the patient during the sedation and MRI procedure.

Let the child’s physician know if the child has any metal objects in his or her body. For safety reasons, every patient and parent or guardian entering the MRI magnetic field must be screened for metal in their bodies.

Download and review metal screening information (PDF).

If the teenage child is or may be pregnant, the physician should be informed prior to scheduling a MRI. Also, please note that a pregnant parent or guardian is not permitted in the MRI scanning room during the procedure.

Before the MRI

A few days prior to the child’s MRI scan, a nurse will call to remind the parents of the appointment and to ask questions about the child’s general health. The nurse can help determine whether the child requires sedation medication and if sedation will be safe for him or her.

If a parent thinks the child may not be able to stay still during the MRI scan and is not scheduled for sedation, the child should not eat or drink anything before the procedure in case there is a need to administer sedation medication.

Read the fasting requirements. » 

At The Hospital

The day of the child’s MRI, you must check in at Radiology registration one hour prior to the scheduled appointment.

The law requires a prescription from the child’s doctor ordering the procedure and stating the reason for it. Proof of insurance also will be required at this time. Once the registration process is complete, the MRI department will be notified.

A technologist or nurse will come out to the registration area and bring the parents and child to a room for a pre-MRI workup.

If the child will be sedated, the parents will be asked questions about the child’s medical history, allergies, current medications, previous sedation or anesthesia experience, and current health status. The child’s airway, heart and lungs will be examined carefully.

If the MRI scan is being performed “with contrast,” an intravenous (IV) line will be inserted. A contrast dye is used for exams that require a clear picture of the blood vessels. The child will receive contrast medication through the IV. He or she may feel a warm or flushed sensation just after the dye goes into the vein. This is normal and will go away quickly.

The parents and the child will stay in the MRI suite waiting area until they are called into the sedation room or, if no sedation is required, they will be called directly into the MRI scanning room.

For safety reasons only one parent can accompany the child during the sedation and the MRI procedures.

What to expect during the scan

The MRI scanner is located in a large room. The child will lie on a narrow table that slides into a hollow, tube-shaped scanner.

The MRI scanning machine makes loud banging or knocking noises when adjustments are being made and pictures are being taken. The child will wear a set of earplugs to help protect his or her ears from the noise.

Once the procedure begins, the child must remain still at all times so that the images obtained are clear and good quality. Movement can negatively affect the quality of the MRI results.

MRI observation windowThe MRI physician and staff will be outside the room behind a large window where the equipment controls are located. They will be able to see the child through the window and a camera, and will constantly monitor the child during the procedure. If the child is not sedated, he or she will be given a device that can be used to let the staff know if he or she needs anything during the procedure.

The test normally takes about 30 to 60 minutes.

Distraction techniques

Some children, especially those older than 3 years of age, can stay still for an MRI if they listen to music or watch a movie during the procedure.

The child can watch a movie through special goggles that provide a 3-D, theater-like experience. The goggles can help the child avoid the uncomfortable feeling and anxiety of being in a contained area for the scan.

The child can select from a variety of available movies (PDF) or parents can bring a movie or music CD from home.

Talking with the child about the movie and easing his or her fears about the procedure can help the child stay relaxed — and still — during the scan.

Even if the child watches a movie or listens to music, he or she may still hear some of the MRI scanner noises in the background. Listening to recorded MRI noises online can help a child prepare for the sounds that will be heard during the MRI procedure.

Learn more about distraction techniques. »

After the procedure

Once the procedure is finished, the table will slide out of the scanner. If the child did not receive sedation, he or she can go home immediately. However, if the child was sedated, he or she will be monitored in the recovery area until the medication wears off and he or she is awake. Children will be required to stay for at least 60 minutes. Parents can remain with the child in the recovery area. If an IV was inserted, it will be taken out after the procedure and when the child is awake.

Read what to do after an MRI if your child was sedated. » 

Test Results

The radiologist will read the MRI within 24 to 48 hours. The results will be sent to the child’s doctor by the Radiology department.