Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
MRI stands for magnetic resonance imaging.
It is a brain imaging device that uses a magnet and radio waves to take detailed pictures of the brain.
What does it involve?
Your child will lie on a bed in a machine called an MRI scanner. It is a short tunnel, which is open at both ends. The bed is motorised and slides through the scanner. The MRI scanner is very noisy due to the magnet inside the machine being switched on and off. It is similar to a hammering sound. Your child will be given headphones to block out most of the noise, and they may be able to listen to music if available. Your child will usually be given a call button to use if they require any help while in the scanner.
It typically takes approximately 45 minutes to have an MRI scan, but it can take up to an hour. Your child will have to lie completely still during this time. If your child is under the developmental age of around 8 years, or if you feel they are not able to lie still for this procedure or do not like confined spaces, your doctor may suggest a general anaesthetic.
You will need to complete an MRI Safety Questionnaire to ensure there are no concerns with your child undergoing an MRI. The main areas of concern are if your child has any internal metal objects from previous surgery, such as a pacemaker. This is often not a problem for children. As the parent, you can be in the MRI room with your child, but also need to complete the Safety Questionnaire. If other children attend the appointment they will need to be supervised in the waiting area.
If your child requires sedation or an anaesthetic, you may discuss the risks and benefits of this with your doctor.
How can you help your child?
You can help your child prepare for an MRI by explaining the test in simple terms before the examination. Make sure to explain that pictures of their head will be taken. Let them know they will be in a small tunnel (as in the picture), and that the equipment will probably make knocking and buzzing noises. They will need to remain very still for the pictures. It may also help to remind your child that you'll be nearby during the entire test.
Image courtesy of Nemours foundation
The information on this page was published in August 2014 and last reviewed in December 2017.