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Getting an MRI

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is a safe and painless test that uses a powerful magnet and FM radio waves to produce detailed pictures of the body’s soft tissue organs and other structures. An MRI differs from a CAT scan (also called a CT scan) because it does not use X-Ray or other potentially damaging forms of radiation.

Accredited by the American College of Radiology
Children's Mercy is accredited by the American College of Radiology

The team at Children's Mercy has described what an MRI is to answer your questions and help you prepare your child for their visit. 

MRI machine

Both MRI and CT scanners look like a large doughnut shaped machines, but MRI machines are longer and have a tunnel in the center. Patients are placed on the table in a comfortable position. Often, there are special radio antennas that are positioned near the body-part being examined. These cushions have various shapes and may look like a football helmet for brain studies or large foam waffles for body imaging. The patient is slid into the scanner so that the area being imaged is in the center of the magnet. Both ends of the scanner are open. During the MRI procedure, the machine vibrates and makes noise. This is normal and helps the machine locate radio signals from the body. These radio signals are picked up by the antennas and sent to powerful computers which generate pictures of the scanned area. 

Why an MRI is done

MRI is very sensitive to the soft tissues in our body. It is extremely useful for evaluating the brain, spine, heart, liver, blood vessels, and joints throughout the body. These images can help pinpoint many problems in the body that can’t be seen with other forms of medical imaging. 

What to expect: MRI

Getting an MRI

We want you and your child to feel prepared for an MRI. In this video you will meet another Children's Mercy child who helps explain where you go, what you can bring, what the MRI machine looks like, who you will meet and more.

Preparing for an MRI

In many cases, little preparation is required for MRI. Patients are required to change into non-magnetic clothing for safety purposes. Many clothing articles contain metal, which can degrade imaging or potentially heat up quickly during MRI. Dental braces are not a safety concern, but other metallic objects such as hearing aids, glasses, or electronic items will be removed . A safety screening is performed to make sure there are no problematic implants which may interfere with imaging or the implant’s function.

We place a great emphasis on MRI safety. Because of the powerful magnets used in MRI, anyone coming into the MRI room is required to be metal free-specifically magnetic metal. This includes clothing or any loose metallic objects such as hairpins, jewelry, phones, pages, belts, or underwire garments. On occasion, parents may choose to stay with their child during a non-sedated case. In these cases, parents are magnetically screened and changed into metal-free scrubs. Women who are pregnant are not allowed in the magnet room during imaging per the recommendation of the American College of Radiology. The anesthesia team must approve requests for parents to accompany anesthetized patients into the MRI room.

To obtain the highest quality MRI results, your child needs to remain completely still during the procedure. For this reason, anesthesia may be used for infants, young children, or other children who may not be able to lay still. The child life team, radiology staff, and anesthesia teams will work with children to help get them through the study without anesthetic medications. Video goggles and movies are available on all of our scanners. If a child requires anesthesia, an anesthesiologist will meet with the parents and patients prior to the exam. An IV line will be started, often after the child is asleep. These patients are monitored closely by physicians, nurses, and technologists throughout the entire exam. 

Many families have found the additional information provided from valuable as they have prepared for this type of scan. 

MRI procedure

Most MRI procedures last around an hour depending on what type of study is being performed. Most exams will require several sets of photos, depending on the body part being imaged. Many studies require an IV contrast medication which highlights blood vessels and allows different visualization of tissues to help doctors see them with better detail. It is important that staff identify any medication allergy or kidney problems prior to these exams. 

As the exam proceeds, your child will hear the machine making noises. These loud noises require that ear protection be in place for anyone remaining in the MRI exam room, patient or otherwise. The AV system has hearing protection in the headset; earplugs or other noise dampening techniques may be used as well. The technologist will be routinely checking on non-anesthetized patients between series of pictures, but the patient can alert the technologist to a need at any time during the procedure.

When the exam is over, the technologist will help your child back to the waiting area. If anesthesia is used, your child may be moved to recover in a different area for a short time.

Getting your results

Results are reported to the physician who requested the imaging within 24 hours of imaging. If emergent, these results will be reported much quicker. Your doctor who ordered the exam will contact you as soon as they have had the opportunity to review the images.

Safe, expert imaging for your child

Children's Mercy has been awarded accreditation in all areas of imaging technology by the American College of Radiology. This represents the highest level of image quality and radiation safety.