Parenthood is an awesome responsibility. The decisions in all areas of your children’s lives need careful evaluation, thought, and focus on long-term benefits, while minimizing risks.
Any risk, especially one to kids, needs to be evaluated seriously. One of the most asked questions is whether diagnostic tests such as MRIs, X-rays, CT and PET scans, utilizing body scanning devices are safe, especially for children.
What is a Children’s (Pediatric ) MRI?
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a noninvasive test used by physicians to diagnose and treat medical conditions. Detailed MRIs help to evaluate internal body organs and determine the presence of disease.
A large, cylindrical-shaped, tubular machine creates a strong magnetic field around the patient. Along with high frequency radio waves and computers, the scanner creates two-dimensional images and cross-sectional views of the relevant organs.
Hydrogen atoms within the body are re-aligned by radio frequency pulses. These do not cause any chemical changes in the tissues. As atoms return to their usual alignment, they emit energy that varies with the type of body tissue. The scanner captures this energy and creates pictures. Computers generate images, which are studied and interpreted by the radiologist.
An MRI penetrates the body to precisely locate abnormalities, swelling, injuries, bleeding, tumors, cysts, and other disorders. It helps diagnose infectious diseases and detect conditions related to the tiniest nerve or blood vessel.
Unlike X-rays or Computed Tomography (CT scans), MRI does not use ionizing radiation.
What Happens During an MRI?
An MRI exam usually takes 20-90 minutes depending on the type of study. The scanning equipment is located in a dedicated room. The technologist will position your child on the sliding scanning table. Devices that send and receive radio waves may be placed around the area being studied.
The table will slide into the tunnel, the technologist will move into a windowed, adjacent room containing the controls. He will conduct the procedure and monitor the child throughout.
The technician will take images. Each scan will last a few minutes.
§ Your child will wear headphones for protection from the loud noises and to hear instructions.
§ Calming music may be played through the headphones.
§ If your child is awake, he or she will be given a call device to alert the staff.
§ Your child will be instructed to keep still and hold his breath at intervals.
§ Very young children may be given medication to relax or sleep.
§ If the MRI is being done “with and without contrast,” your child will be administered contrast medication through an IV, about half-way through the scan. He may feel a warm or flushed sensation.
§ MR spectroscopy, (for additional information on the chemicals present in the body’s cells), may also be performed.
At the end of the procedure the table will slide out of the scanner. If not sedated, your child can resume normal activities immediately, unless the doctor instructs you otherwise.
If sedated, your child may feel tired, sleepy, or groggy. He will be monitored until the medication wears off and the IV is removed. The sedation should wear off within 24 hours.
The Benefits of the Open MRI Option
- A wider opening and less confining.
- Technicians can speak to your child and maintain eye contact.
- Faster scanning reduces time.
- Increased clarity of images.
- Good chances of a successful test on the first try.
The Question of Safety
Any medical procedure carries risks. Medical decisions are based on a benefit versus risk ratio. Studies have shown that the benefits of MRIs are far greater than any risk, most of which are avoided if adequate care is taken.
Benefits of an MRI Scan
- Noninvasive imaging technique without exposure to ionizing radiation.
- Greater accuracy than other imaging methods.
- Invaluable in early diagnosis and evaluation.
- Identifies a broad range of conditions, including cancer, cardiac and vascular disease, and musculoskeletal abnormalities.
- Safe alternative to x-ray, angiography and CT.
- Uncovers abnormalities that might be obscured in other imaging methods.
- MRI contrast material is less prone to allergic reactions.
Minor Risks of an MRI Scan
There are no known, long-term health hazards or risks associated with an MRI examination as long as safety guidelines are followed:
- Excessive sedation may pose a slight risk.
- Medical implants that contain metal may malfunction or cause problems.
- Nephrogenic systemic fibrosis is a rare complication in patients with poor kidney function.
- Allergic reactions to the contrast material may occur.
- Radio frequency energy could lead to overheating/burns of the body during longer scans.
- Some patients may experience claustrophobia.
- Sedation and anesthesia can cause slowed or difficult breathing, and low blood pressure.
- The examination takes longer than other imaging modalities and results may not be immediately available.
Prior consultations with your doctor can take care of all these minor risk factors.
Preparing Your Child for an MRI Scan
Research proves that speaking to your child about the “why, where, what, and how” helps them to weather the procedure with minimal anxiety and maximum participation, cooperation, and safety.
Children have varying attention spans and retention of information. When and how to talk to them will depend on their age. Talking to them about what to expect should take place a week or so in advance for those 11 or older, to a day or so before for 5-10 year olds, and actually on the way to the facility for toddlers.
Explain the procedure in appropriate detail (see section on What Happens During an MRI). Tell them:
- An MRI does not hurt. It’s a huge camera that takes pictures of their insides to help their doctors make them well.
- Even though there’s a lot of noise, it’s perfectly safe, and they won’t be alone.
- Check if it’s possible for you to stay with your child.
- If your child needs an IV, prepare him for the entire procedure.
- Your child may be able to wear their own clothes if there is no metal.
- You can bring a favorite blanket from home for your child’s comfort.
- Ask if he can bring favorite music or DVDs.
- Take a tour of the MRI room with your child before the test.
Guidelines about eating and drinking before an MRI exam vary. Unless instructed otherwise, follow regular daily routines, food, and medication regimens.
By answering questions simply, clearly and honestly, you can turn the experience into a game or an adventure. Explain it to them in terms of their favorite space, sci-fi, or fantasy movie, or game of “Statues.” They may even look forward to bragging about this as a new adventure.
If your child needs an MRI or you have questions, please call Independent Imaging at (561) 795-5558 to talk about your options. You can also request an appointment online with one of our board-certified radiologists in Wellington, Belle Glade, Lake Worth, or Royal Palm Beach today.