All about your child's MRI

MRI stands for Magnetic Resonance Imaging. It is a type of scan that uses a magnetic field to take pictures of the inside of the body.

What is an MRI scan? 

MRI stands for Magnetic Resonance Imaging. It is a type of scan that uses a magnetic field to take pictures of the inside of the body. It does not use radiation (unlike x-rays and CT scans). The MRI scanner is a big machine, about the size of a 3-seater sofa, with a hollow tunnel running through the middle – a bit like a giant donut on its side. There is a bed running through the middle of the scanner where the patient lies.  

Why are MRI scans taken? 

MRI scans give detailed pictures of the inside of the  body - much more detail than other scans (e.g. x-rays, CT scans or ultrasound). MRIs are especially good at imaging the spine, brain, and joints. Doctors can use the information from an MRI scan to help make a diagnosis or plan treatment. MRIs are considered to be a very safe for most patients - the scanner does not touch the patient’s body and it does not hurt.  

Why are some children given sleep medicine before an MRI scan? 

MRIs do not hurt and can be done with the patient fully awake. However, some children will be given medicine to relax or send them to sleep for the scan. This is because MRIs take a long time (about 30 minutes – 1 hour) and the child must lie very still so that the pictures the scanner takes are clear. The scanner machine makes a lot of noise when it is working and some children can be very sensitive to this.  

What happens during an MRI scan? 

The MRI scan happens in a special MRI scanner room in the radiology department. Metal is not allowed in the scanner room so patients are checked to make sure they have no loose metal on them. Parents are sometimes allowed to stay in the scanner room with their child (if the child is awake) but this is not always possible. The scanner machine is operated by a radiographer – a healthcare professional trained in performing scans. The radiographer helps to position the patient on the scanner bed. They control the scanner machine from the next door room which has a window into the scanner room so they can see the patient. When the patient is lying comfortably the radiographer presses a button and the scanner bed slowly moves into the middle of the tunnel. The scanner machine makes a very loud banging noise when it is working and sometimes this makes the bed vibrate slightly. When the scan has finished the bed slowly moves out of the tunnel and the noise stops. The images are sent to a doctor specially trained in reading scan images (radiologist) who then sends a detailed report to the patient’s doctor. 

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