MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) for Children

What is an MRI?

  • An MRI is a camera that uses a large magnet (not radiation), to take detailed, two and three-dimensional pictures of a child’s organs, tissues and bones.
  • An MRI helps to find a diagnosis and treatment plan.
  • An MRI does not use radiation, but instead uses magnets.  You and your child must be screened for any metal inside the body and will be asked to remove any jewelry, or clothing, that contain metal before entering the MRI suite. 
  • Any personal belongings that contain metal can be locked in a secure cabinet during the scan. 
  • After being screened, one caregiver may accompany the child during the MRI.
  • The MRI is an open tunnel with a bed attached which moves in and out of the tunnel.  The tunnel never touches the child.  Some children say the MRI looks like a spaceship or a doughnut!
  • An MRI scan is not painful.
  • In order to get the best results, it is very important that the child holds still for the scan.
  • Depending on the type of scan, the time it takes to complete an MRI can range between 30 minutes to two hours (most MRIs of the brain may take about 45 minutes).

Women who are pregnant are not permitted in the MRI room during the scan. Please plan to come with someone who can stay with your child during the scan. All other visitors must stay in the waiting room and any children must be supervised by someone 18 years old or older.​

The services included in our state-of-the-art facility include:

  • Bolus Track: MRI fluroscopy for contrast enhanced studies.
  • Mobitrack: Moving table for extended body MR-Angiograms.
  • Neuro Imaging: Faster high resolution protocols. fMRI allows you to map brain task-related regions prior to surgery.
  • Cardiac Imaging: Fast imaging and reconstruction allows for heart imaging. Learn more about Cardiac MRI.
  • Fetal Imaging:  Fetal MRI allows to evaluate the developing fetus during pregnancy.
  • Sense (Imaging Technique): Allows 77 frames/sec for cardiac studies and breath-hold abdominal studies.
  • Navigator Pulse (Imaging Technique): Reduces heart motion and motion from breathing for cardiac studies.
  • Pediatric Head and Spine Coil: Allows for two exams in one seating for tumor screening.
  • MRS: Spectroscopy and multivoxel spectroscopy. Measures a variety of metabolites in the brain tissue.
  • Volumetric Imaging.
  • Expanded sedation and recovery areas for patients.

The Largest Provider of Pediatric MRI

In 1985, Nicklaus Children's Hospital installed the first MRI unit in the city of Miami, and was the first MRI facility in the United States dedicated to pediatrics. In 1998, the hospital became the first MRI unit in Miami to offer functional MRIs or fMRI. The Radiology Department of Nicklaus Children's Hospital is the largest provider of pediatric MRI services in south Florida.

What to Expect during the MRI?

Step 1: Getting Ready

  • You and your child will be walked from the waiting room to an exam room (which is like a “Get Ready Room”) where a nurse will perform the child’s vital signs and review the medical history.
  • Some MRIs are ordered with “contrast”, a special water-like liquid used to help see details of the body part being scanned. Contrast can be given two ways:
    • Given through IV catheters (a tiny, plastic straw inserted into the vein in the hand or arm).
    • By mouth
  • Depending on the case, numbing medicine may be used to help your child feel as comfortable as possible during the IV placement.
  • Please bring your child’s favorite toy or activity to provide distraction while being in the room.

Step 2: Taking Pictures

  • Next, you and your child will be taken into the MRI room, or the “Picture Room”, where they will see a long table attached to a tunnel-like scanner where the MRI camera is located.
  • Once your child lies down, the technologist will secure the child with a Velcro seatbelt.
  • A “coil” (plastic shield) will also be placed over the part of the body being scanned. Don’t worry, this does not hurt!
  • When the scan begins, the bed will slowly move through the tunnel then stop and stay in place for the scan.
  • The MRI never touches your child and does not hurt. It only takes pictures.
  • As it takes pictures, the MRI machine will make sounds similar to knocking and honking noises.
  • You and your child will be given foam earplugs to help shield the noise from your ears.
  • Fun Features:  Depending on the type of scan and MRI machine your child is assigned, there may be an opportunity to watch a movie or listen to music during the exam.

Step 3: Results

Your doctor will contact you within 48 to 72 business hours after the exam.

Will my child need sedation for MRI?

Since it is important for the child to hold very still during the pediatric MRI procedure, your doctor may order some sedation (medicine to make your child sleepy).

Unlike other imaging modalities, there are some people who cannot have an MRI. Persons who have a heart pacemaker or any kind of metallic implant in their body should not have an MRI unless their physician and the radiologist know about it and have approved the exam. For this same reason, the child (and a parent who comes into the room with the patient), will not be allowed to wear anything metallic during the exam, so when preparing for an MRI, it would be best to leave watches, jewelry, or anything else containing metal, at home.

If your child is to be sedated, the MRI Department needs to have the answers, from your doctor, to the following questions about your child:

  1. Does the patient have cardiac (heart) problems?
  2. Does the patient have any type of airway disease (breathing problems)?
  3. Does the patient have a history of apnea-breath stoppage (especially sleep apnea)?
  4. Does the patient have any type of metabolic disease?
  5. Does the patient have a prior history of difficult sedation of anesthesia?
  6. Does the patient have any congenital syndromes?

Patients must also follow the Standard Orders for a Patient Undergoing Sedation for Elective Non Emergency Procedures.

Guidelines for an MRI with Sedation

In some cases, the examination time is too long to permit the child to try to hold still without sedation. This may be determined in advance or, can be ordered by the radiologist after your child is in the department. Pediatric sedation is only given by a sedation-qualified physician and/or nurse.

While the amount and type of sedation is determined upon arrival by your child's size/weight and age, there are general guidelines for pediatric sedation preparation.

Pediatric Sedation Guidelines for Preparation for Elective Non-Emergency Procedures

Your child will need to have an empty stomach when sedation medications are given. Food or liquid in the child’s stomach may result in vomiting or other reactions. You will be given specific instructions as to when your child must stop eating or drinking before the procedure.

Infants 0 to 6 months:

  • Formula without cereal until six (6) hours before the procedure
  • Breast milk until four (4) hours before procedure
  • Clear liquids (apple juice, Gatorade or water) until two (2) hours before the procedure 

Ages 6 months to 10 years:

  • Solid foods, milk or formula until eight (8) hours before the procedure
  • Clear liquids (apple juice, Gatorade, water) until two (2) hours before the procedure

Ages over 10 years:

  • No solid foods or milk after midnight unless otherwise instructed
  • Clear liquids (apple juice, Gatorade, water) until two (2) hours before the procedure
No gum or hard candy permitted prior to sedation.

Reviewed by: Nolan R Altman, MD

This page was last updated on: January 07, 2022 09:45 AM

Children's Radiology

The Radiology facilities at Nicklaus Children’s are specifically designed for the comfort and diagnosis of infants, children and adolescents.

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