Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

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What is an MRI scan?

MRI is a routine diagnostic imaging exam that uses a large magnet, radio waves, and a computer to produce 2- and 3-dimensional images of the body's organs, tissues, and bones.

  • Often the imaging modality of choice because it does not use ionizing radiation (X-rays)
  • A way to better evaluate various parts of the body and certain diseases that may not be assessed adequately with other imaging technologies
  • Painless - the MRI scanner takes pictures without touching the body
  • Safe - years of experience have shown no known harmful effects from the magnetic fields and radiofrequency pulses used in this hospital
  • Interpreted by a pediatric radiologist or pediatric neuroradiologist; the results are reported to your child's physician.

What is an MRI scanner and how does it work?

An MRI scanner is a large, tube-shaped magnet that provides a strong magnetic field around your child. A radiofrequency coil is placed over the body part that is to be imaged. The magnetic field, along with applied radiofrequency waves, temporarily alters the alignment of hydrogen protons found in water molecules within the body. Computers construct the images based on the radiofrequency signals emitted by the protons.

How should I prepare my child for the MRI scan?

While scheduling your MRI appointment and possibly speaking with an anesthesia assessment nurse, you will receive verbal preparation instructions that include dietary restrictions. It is very important that you follow all these instructions or the scan may need to be rescheduled.

What should I expect when I bring my child to the hospital?

When you arrive, please go to the MRI radiology check-in desk on the second floor of the main hospital in Boston or the first floor check-in desk at our Waltham facility. An ambulatory service representative will check your child in and verify his or her registration information.

We will give you a safety screening questionnaire to fill out for your child:

  • This form will ensure that your child can be safely imaged in MRI.
  • If you plan to accompany your child into the scanner room, you must also fill out a form for yourself.
  • Please bring supporting documentation of MRI safety if you or your child have had any surgical implants or devices. Delays may result if devices need to be researched. Some exams may need to be cancelled if required MRI safety information cannot be obtained.
  • A member of the MRI team will come out to the waiting room to bring you and your child to the screening room. As part of the screening, your child may be weighed or measured.
  • Your child will change into hospital pajamas.
  • You and your child will need to remove all metal objects. Lockers are available for locking up any valuables.

When your paperwork is complete:

Your child may be able to watch a movie or listen to music during the scan. If you brought a movie or iPod from home, you can give it to the MRI team member. Otherwise, your child can choose a movie or music from the department's collection.

How do I learn the results of my child’s MRI scan?

The radiologist's report will be sent to the physician who requested the exam and your child's doctor will then discuss the results with you. If there is a finding on the scan that requires urgent attention, we will contact the referring physician in order to discuss the findings and plan further treatment.

What happens during the MRI scan?

Once your child is asleep:

  • The anesthesia team and MRI technologist will position your child on the scanning bed. The inside of an MRI machine looks like a tunnel. It is necessary for the body part that will be scanned to be in the center of the scanner, so the technologist will move the scanner bed into the tunnel until it is appropriately positioned.
  • We will place earplugs on your child to protect his or her ears because the MRI machine makes loud pulsing or knocking sounds.

An MRI technologist will perform your child's scan and the anesthesia team will continue to monitor your child.

Sometimes, patients receive a substance called gadolinium during the scan, which is needed to provide additional information about some parts of the body. Gadolinium is given through the IV.

MRI scans consist of several sequences of a few minutes duration each that cumulatively take anywhere from 20 to 90 minutes, depending on the information required by the radiologist and your physician. We will give you a more specific time frame before the scan begins.

We are grateful to have been ranked #1 on U.S. News & World Report's list of the best children's hospitals in the nation for the third year in a row, an honor we could not have achieved without the patients and families who inspire us to do our very best for them. Thanks to you, Boston Children's is a place where we can write the greatest children's stories ever told.”
- Sandra L. Fenwick, President and CEO

Boston Children's Hospital 300 Longwood Avenue, Boston, MA 02115 617-355-6000 | 800-355-7944

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