DEAR DR. PAUL: My doctor recommended an MRI for my 2 year old son. What is an MRI and can it be done on young children?
DR.PAUL ANSWERS: Thank you for asking this question, because Magnetic Resonance Imaging (also known as MRI) is a relatively new type of diagnostic imaging procedure which really has advanced the way we can look inside of the body. Traditionally we have relied on X-rays, or radiographs to look inside the body. Everyone has seen X-rays which are flat black and white images. An X-ray usually shows tissue that is calcified so we can easily see bones, looking for fractures or related defects. However we cannot see organs well with X-rays. An advance to this type of approach was the CAT scan which is a special type of image that actually shows cross sections or cuts of the body. Through computer generated images, CAT scans display a lot of lot of details of both bony elements and soft tissue or organs such as the brain, heart and liver. Because of these advances in imaging the term Diagnostic Medical Imaging has replaced the term “Radiology”.
An MRI is another way of seeing the inside of the body without radiation by using a large magnet, radio waves and a computer. An MRI can help us visualize body tissues in a different way. MRI images are highly detailed and allow us to really look inside of a person’s body. It is almost like taking cuts or slices of the body but in a “virtual” yet highly accurate way on the computer.
The MRI room has a tunnel which contains the magnet. The patient, usually lying on their back on a sliding table, is moved into the tunnel. There is an intercom in the tunnel ensuring constant 2-way communication between the technician and the patient. The tunnel is well ventilated, however while the magnet is working, it makes a loud banging noise. For this reason ear pugs are worn to help muffle this noise. The examination may last up to 30 to 60 minutes.
Is there any special preparation? Usually, patients should not have eaten or drank anything for at least 3 hours prior to the examination. Because of the magnetic field, all jewelry, hair pins, contact lenses, make up, nail polish, pins, zippers and buttons should be removed. If the person undergoing an MRI examination is claustrophobic, a sedative medication may be given to help them relax during the procedure.
MRI’s are also performed in children. However, younger children and infants, need to be sedated so they do not move during the examination. The specific type of sedation depends on the age and individual circumstance. Most children MRI facilities allow the parent to remain with their child during the exam. The parent should ensure that he or she is not wearing any metal by emptying pockets of loose change and keys. Also they should not bring in credit cards or similar magnetized cards and should remove their watches.
Pediatrician DR.PAUL Roumeliotis is certified by the American Board of Pediatrics and Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. The information provided above is designed to be an educational aid only. It is not intended to replace the advice and care of your child’s physician, nor is it intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment. If you suspect that your child has a medical condition always consult a physician.