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Preparing for Your Child’s Sedated MRI

by Jessica Amey

I’ve never actually had an MRI scan myself but I don’t think I would cope well as I get claustrophobic, I can’t even imagine having to prepare children for one.

This guest post has some useful advice when it comes to preparing for your child’s MRI scan.


An MRI scan is a daunting – and often frightening – experience for an adult, but it can be infinitely more distressing for a young child. In order to keep children still while they undergo this vital scan, sedation is often necessary, which can present a range of challenges for both you and your child. However, it is possible to make the process a little less frightening by preparing for it in advance.

What is an MRI scan?

An MRI for children involves a child lying inside a machine that resembles a tunnel. A large magnet is used to take detailed pictures of the various organs and structures within the body – in order to diagnose problems that can’t be picked up by X-ray or CT scans. Unfortunately, the noise created and feelings of claustrophobia caused can lead to children becoming distressed and agitated, which makes taking detailed pictures impossible. This is why sedation is often the only course of action available.

What happens during a child’s MRI?

Your child will need to lie on a bed that will move slowly inside a narrow tunnel. Depending on what area of your child’s body is being looked at, your child will enter the tunnel either feet or head first. It is vital that your child remains perfectly still while images are taken; unfortunately, each image can take several minutes to complete. Children will often be given the chance to remain still without the need for medication. If this is not possible, an MRI under general anaesthetic might be advised.

If your child is to remain awake during an MRI scan under sedation, you should warn her that the MRI machine will make loud ‘knocking’ noises. But it is also important to stress that the machine will never actually come into contact with your child. Most children are given earplugs or headphones to drown out the sound. If the MRI images are of your child’s head, she will have to wear a protective helmet. In most scenarios, you should be able to remain in the room with your child for the duration of the scan.

What if your child requires an IV contrast dye?

If a contrast dye is required for your child’s MRI images, an anaesthetic will be sprayed onto her arm, and a small needle will be inserted into a vein. This can add to the stress of the procedure, which is why an MRI for children under sedation may be recommended. The dye itself has no effect other than to enhance the images captured by the MRI machine.

Useful information about MRI scans

Be prepared to remove all metal items from your child’s person before going into the MRI room. You should ensure that your child isn’t wearing clothes with zips or metal attachments, a metal belt or anything metallic. No electronic items – such as iPhones and MP3 players – will be allowed in the MRI machine. If there is no metal on your child’s clothes, the chances are she will be allowed to wear them inside the MRI scanner. Some MRI rooms can be a little cold, so make sure you take a blanket to your appointment.

Research has shown that children who have had the MRI procedure fully explained to them in advance are less anxious and frightened during the session. It is therefore vital that you explain to your child what to expect during what is often a traumatic experience. If your child is particularly young, the chances are some form of sedation will be required. In the case of infants, a general anaesthetic is the only option, as there is no other way of keeping the child perfectly still while images are taken.

With some preparation, support and a team of expert medical professionals around you, your child’s MRI scan needn’t be overly traumatic.

Collaborative post

Image – DTTSP



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