Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

CHOC Children’s offers MRI imaging services in a family friendly environment combined with individualized care, specialty expertise and the most advanced technology. Our state-of-the art equipment provides unprecedented imaging quality that is geared towards children and their unique needs. MRI imaging gives incredibly detailed pictures of organs, bones and tissues without using ionizing radiation (X-rays).

Technician looking at monitors with MRI images

What is an MRI?

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a non-invasive diagnostic procedure. This imaging lets a doctor see detailed pictures of the inside of a patient’s body. MRI does not use X-rays or any radiation. Instead, MRI machines use strong magnets and radio waves to form an image of organs, bones and tissues inside the body.
Radiologists interpret the MRI to help diagnose problems or check the body’s response to treatment.
During the exam, radio waves manipulate the magnetic position of the atoms of the body. Then, a powerful antenna picks up the magnets and radio waves and sends them to a computer. The computer performs millions of calculations, resulting in clear, cross-sectional black-and-white images of the body. These images are then converted into three-dimensional (3-D) pictures of the scanned area. The 3-D pictures help pinpoint problems in the body.

What types of MRI machines does CHOC use?

  • Siemens 1.5T MRI: At CHOC Children’s we are proud to offer our patients the very latest in MRI technology. We currently offer the latest Siemens 1.5T model MRI machine with advanced technology designed to reduce scan time by up to 50%.
  • Siemens 3T MRI: We are also one of only a few imaging centers in the area that offer a 3T MRI. The 3T MRI provides many benefits to pediatric patients. One notable benefit of the new 3T scanner is its increased speed and excellent image quality. The use of a super-short magnet also allows completion of exams with the child’s head outside the scanner. However, a 3T machine isn’t always the best for every kind of imaging.

The radiologist and the child’s doctor will select the right type of MRI machine depending upon the part of the body that needs imaging.

When is an MRI needed?

MRI detects a variety of conditions. It can provide clear images of body parts that can’t be seen as well with an X-ray, fluoroscopy, CT scan or ultrasound.

An MRI’s ability to highlight contrasts in soft tissue makes it useful in deciphering problems with joints, cartilage, ligaments and tendons. MRI can also identify infections and inflammatory conditions or to rule out problems such as tumors.

Is an MRI dangerous?

MRIs are safe and easy. No health risks have been associated with the magnetic field or radio waves. This is because the low-energy radio waves use no radiation. The procedure can repeat without side effects.

Due to the use of the strong magnet, an MRI cannot be performed on patients with:

  • Implanted pacemakers
  • Cochlear implants
  • Certain prosthetic devices
  • Implanted drug infusion pumps
  • Neurostimulators
  • Bone-growth stimulators
  • Certain intrauterine contraceptive devices
  • Any other type of iron-based metal implants

The radiology department will discuss guidelines with the patient and family before the study.

What is the preparation for an MRI?

  • To help ensure the patient’s safety, please bring a list of the child’s current medications, allergies and information about any internal surgical implants to the MRI appointment.
  • Children should wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothes without any metal, such as zippers, buckles or snaps.
  • Patients can bring a favorite DVD to watch or CD to listen to (if not undergoing anesthesia).
  • When your child’s doctor orders anesthesia, a radiology nurse will call you before the exam to discuss how to prepare for the exam.
  • If the imaging requires anesthesia, a CHOC radiology nurse will call before the appointment. The nurse will provide eating instructions for the day before the procedure and extra information about what to expect the day of.

What if my child is scared?

While an MRI is non-invasive and painless, we understand that these machines can be frightening to your child. Our child life specialists help children of all ages feel comfortable and safe. We even have a toy-sized CT machine that can help teach them about the test beforehand. We even have a toy-sized MRI machine that can help teach them about the test beforehand. Learn more about our child life specialists and distraction techniques.

What to expect for the MRI?

  • The MRI technologist will screen the child before entering the MRI suite. Because of the strong magnetic field, the patient must remove all jewelry and metal objects, such as hairpins or clips, hearing aids, eyeglasses and dental pieces. To get the highest quality images, the child must remain still during the scan.
  • An MRI machine is a large, tube-shaped machine that creates a strong magnetic field around the patient. The patient will lie on a table that slides into a tunnel in the scanner. Meanwhile, the technologist will position the child and make sure they are as comfortable as possible.
  • During the scanning process, a loud clicking noise will sound. The scanner will create a magnetic field and pulses of radio waves.
  • Some children may need an intravenous contrast material for the scan. There may be some discomfort with the placement of the IV into the vein, but the contrast itself is not painful. The patient will receive contrast medication halfway through the procedure. A radiology nurse or technologist will call you one to two days before the procedure to explain this procedure.
  • The technologist can see the child through a front facing window, as well as with a camera placed at the back end of the scanner. Our technologist will talk with the patient throughout the procedure.
  • Most scans last 30-90 minutes.

Will my child need contrast?

Some children may require an intravenous contrast material for the scan. Your child’s doctor orders contrast. If contrast is necessary, our team will provide instructions on how to prepare for your child’s test.

Radiologists use the IV contrast to check the blood supply of the studied area. The IV contrast is very safe. Patients take the contrast medication halfway through the procedure. The child may feel a sensation like they have to urinate or a warm flushed sensation after the dye goes into the vein. This is a normal feeling and will subside quickly. There may be some discomfort with the placement of this into the vein.

What happens after the MRI procedure?

Your child’s doctor will receive the report usually within 48 hours. (Please contact the doctor who ordered the scan for the results.) Patients should be able to resume normal activities immediately, unless your child’s doctor instructs otherwise.

If a patient received anesthesia, the child will rest in the recovery area until the medication wears off and wakes up. Your child may feel groggy, tired or sleepy for a period of several hours after the procedure.

If a patient received contrast, mildly increase your child’s fluid intake. The contrast will pass naturally through your child’s body within a day.

Why Choose CHOC?

ACR Diagnostic Imaging Center of Excellence

  • CHOC Children’s has been designated a Diagnostic Imaging Center of Excellence® (DICOE) by the American College of Radiology (ACR) for best-quality imaging practices and diagnostic care.
  • CHOC uses only board-certified pediatric radiologists and specially trained pediatric radiology technologists, nurses and child life specialists.
  • All radiology staff undergo age-specific training annually to learn how to work and communicate with children of varying ages.
  • We are only one of a few medical centers in the country to have child life specialists working in a dedicated pediatric radiology and imaging department.