Prepare your child as best you can so there won't be any surprises on the day of the test
Bone and Joint Health

MRI for Children: Best Practices for a Smooth Test

Many adults get nervous when they face an MRI, even if they know how the machine works and what to expect. For children, the prospect of climbing or sliding into a large, imposing machine can be even more frightening. But an MRI will provide your child's doctor with important information that will lead to both a more accurate diagnosis and a more effective treatment plan.

How MRIs Work

The imaging begins after your child is positioned inside a tube-shaped chamber. The session is actually a series of smaller tests, usually ten minutes each, followed by a pause of a few more minutes. Sometimes, your child may need to hold his or her breath for a few seconds. You should let them know that the machine is noisy, and headphones are often used to help drown out the sound.

An MRI uses magnetic fields and radio waves to produce highly accurate, three-dimensional images. Sometimes, the MRI requires a special dye to be injected through an IV in order to highlight particular areas. Though a very small number of children may have an allergic reaction to the dye, don't worry. Most facilities have trained staff at the ready if such reactions occur.

MRIs detect inflammation, tumors, and infections, and they are especially useful for imaging the heart, eyes, ears, and soft tissue such as tendons and joints. A radiologist reads the results before sending a report to the pediatrician.

Pediatric MRIs

Pediatric imaging centers specialize in MRI exams that will be as smooth a process as possible for your child. Child-friendly facilities feature MRI technicians with an expertise in pediatric imaging and a wealth of experience in working with kids. As an article in MAGNETOM World points out, no two children are the same, and it's important for the staff at the imaging center to be able to make decisions about the MRI based on your child's behaviors, fears, and needs.

Perhaps more importantly, MRI scanners that cater to young children may be made to look like a spaceship or pirate ship, making them a far cry from the more typical white tube that adults are familiar with. Kids may even be able to watch a movie during the test. By making the test seem like a game or providing the proper distractions, the experience can be a lot smoother than you expected.

Your child's age is a major factor in knowing what to expect during the test. Infants are tightly swaddled, while, for children who may be claustrophobic, some machines are built with wide openings, and others are not enclosed at all. The goal of these machines is to keep your child from being scared or frightened. Not only will this be a better experience all around, but for some children, it may mean the difference between requiring a sedative or simply lying still.

Preparing Your Child

You know your child better than anyone else, including what can help to distract or relax him or her during the test. For young children who won't be given anesthetics, consider taking the following actions before and during the MRI:

  • Take your child on a visit to the MRI center beforehand. Make arrangements to visit the room and even introduce your child to the staff.
  • Simulate the process at home, including pretending to inject the dye and practicing holding still.
  • If you know someone who has had an MRI, ask that person to describe the experience for your child.
  • Find out ahead of time if the physician will prescribe a mild sedative before the test.
  • Since it is sure to be detected by your child, control your own anxiety and be a model of calmness.
  • Older children and adolescents respond well if they are given some level of control over the process. Let them become a part of the team.

Like many medical procedures, fear of the unknown can cause anxiety in young children. When you can give your child as clear of an idea as possible of what they will go through during an MRI, you eliminate surprises. Experienced technicians who are used to working with kids and a kid-friendly testing environment will all go a long way toward making this a smooth experience for parents and children alike.

Posted in Bone and Joint Health

Since retiring from a career as a medical, geriatric, and public social worker, Charles Hooper has published hundreds of articles and blog posts on a variety of topics, including health and medicine, politics and government, and advocacy. Charles graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a master's degree in social work. He received an Outstanding Scholar award and graduated with honors from the University of North Carolina at Asheville, where he majored in sociology and political science.

More articles from this writer

Is a Knee Arthroplasty Right for You?

Heart Attack vs. Cardiac Arrest: What Caregivers Need to Know

The Lowdown on Living with Neuropathy

*This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute health care advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor or physician before making health care decisions.