Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

What to Expect When Your Child Needs an MRI

Your child’s doctor has ordered an MRI to help with your child’s diagnosis. MRI stands for ”magnetic resonance imaging.” An MRI uses strong magnets and radio waves to take many pictures of the body’s soft tissue, the parts of your body not made of bone, such as your brain, heart and muscles.

Since your child trusts you most, it is important to prepare them for what they can expect during the MRI. At Mary Bridge, our pediatric imaging team is trained to work with children to evaluate their individual needs and complete all tests as quickly and as comfortably as possible.

You and your child are welcome to ask questions at anytime before or after the scan. A Child Life Specialist who is trained to explain the scan and reduce anxiety or discomfort can also be scheduled to be with you and your child the day of the scan to help make the appointment go smoothly. Please call our Radiology Child Life Specialist at 253-403-2260 and they would be happy to assist you.

Before the Scan

Before you arrive for your child’s MRI, check in with the main Information Desk at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital at the main building entrance, 317 Martin Luther King Jr. Way. You will be directed toward Outpatient Radiology.

Your child should dress in comfortable clothing without any metal buttons. We suggest your child bring a favorite blanket, music or toy (non-metallic or electronic) for comfort. Your child may hold the toy or blanket during the scan, as long as it does not block the area we need to scan.

If you wish to accompany your child into the room, you must complete a short screening form and remove all metal items and jewelry prior to entering the MRI room. The MRI machine contains very strong magnets, so pacemakers or other implants, and loose metal could cause serious injuries. Also, any card or device with a magnetic strip will be erased. Women who are pregnant cannot be in the room during the scanning. If you are not able to enter the Magnet Room, you may wait in the Pediatric Waiting Room.

Sedation and Contrast

Children must lie perfectly still for about 40 minutes for an MRI scan. If your child is very young or unable to keep still for the exam, your doctor may order sedation to help them sleep during the scanning. A nurse will call you one or two days before the scheduled MRI scan to discuss preparations. If your child requires sedation for the scan, and you have not heard from the sedation nurse by 4pm the day before the scan, please call 253-403-9569.

Some scans also require a special contrast material, a kind of dye that can create a better, more detailed image. One type of contrast is a fluid your child will drink; the other is given through an IV. One or both types of contrast may be used. When you call to schedule the MRI, instructions for the fluid contrast, if necessary, will be explained to you at that time.

During the Scan

The MRI scan time will take about 40 minutes. The MRI technologist will check with your child between each segment of filming, and will be constantly monitoring your child to make sure he/she is comfortable and safe.

The MRI machine looks like a long tunnel with a bed or “table” that your child will lay on. The table will move in and out of the tunnel for the scanning. The machine may seem close, but it will not touch your child.

The MRI scan will be loud, but it is completely painless. Your child will wear special headphones to protect his or her hearing. Your child will be able to listen to music through the headphones while in the MRI machine.

In order to get clear pictures, your child needs to hold completely still. A squeeze ball will be available for your child to hold if they need to move, scratch or fidget during the exam. Your child can simply squeeze the ball to let the MRI technologist know, and the technologist will stop taking images until your child is ready to continue.

After the Test

If your child was sedated, he or she will start to wake up after the test. The nurse will give instructions for taking care of your child after the scanning. The nurse may also give instructions to drink extra fluids if your child had contrast media for the scan.

The images from the scan will be reviewed by a radiologist, and the results will be sent to your child’s referring doctor. Please contact your child’s doctor to review the results and to discuss any questions or concerns you may have about your child’s care.

More on MRIs from MultiCare's Vitals Blog

MRI Cinemavision gogglesTo relax during MRI, kids watch videos on Cinemavision goggles

For people of any age, an MRI can be a claustrophobic experience. For kids at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital, a pair of Cinemavision goggles lets them watch their favorite movies to relax without the need for sedation.