Cardiac MRI in Children

What is cardiac MRI?

Cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a test that uses radio waves, magnets and a computer to take pictures of your child’s heart. Doctors use the test to evaluate the structure and function of the heart and blood vessels.

It’s considered "non-invasive" because the machine takes pictures without entering the body. MRI doesn’t use x-rays or radioactive radiation.

Why is a cardiac MRI performed?

A cardiac MRI is done to evaluate the structure and function of the heart and blood vessels. An MRI may provide your child’s doctor with information about your child’s heart that can’t be obtained by other tests.

What can I expect during a cardiac MRI?

A cardiac MRI usually lasts 45 to 90 minutes. The MRI machine sits in a large room and looks like a tunnel. Your child will lie down on a table that slides into the tunnel.

The MRI machine makes loud banging and clicking noises during most of the exam. You child will get earplugs to soften the noise and can watch a movie or listen to music.

During the MRI, your child may be asked to hold his or her breath for brief periods (10 to 20 seconds). This helps create clearer pictures.

Some children receive a contrast dye, called gadolinium, during the exam to help get a better picture of blood vessels or heart muscle. The medicine is given through an intravenous line (IV) placed before the exam. 

Will my child need sedation or anesthesia?

To get clear pictures, your child needs to remain still in the MRI scanner during the test. Young children and those who can’t lie still or are afraid of the machine may need to be sedated or have general anesthesia.

Some children may experience anxiety inside the tunnel (claustrophobia). 

How we approach cardiac MRI

The Boston Children's Hospital Division of Cardiac Imaging is among the largest and most advanced programs in the country, staffed by 20 radiologists and cardiologists who are specifically trained in pediatric cardiac imaging. Currently, we perform more than 1,000 exams each year.