Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans use powerful magnets, invisible radio waves, and computers to take detailed pictures of organs and other body parts. For example, MRI scans let doctors see tendons, blood vessels and organs, such as the brain.

MRI scans help doctors diagnose and treat people who have seizure disorders, brain injuries, tumors, congenital heart defects, hip abnormalities, and a wide variety of other conditions. 

image of an MRI machine

An MRI scanner looks like a large tunnel with a long table that slides in and out of the center. A person’s position inside the machine depends on which body part needs scanning. 

Before the Scan

This section contains information about how to prepare for an MRI scan and what to expect when arriving at Gillette. 

Preparing at Home

To help children prepare for imaging scans, practice lying still with them for 10 to 15 minutes at a time. We also recommend that parents help children practice holding their breath for short periods. We sometimes ask patients to hold their breath briefly while we take certain pictures.

Screening for Metal

Because MRI machines use powerful magnets, we screen all patients for metal once they arrive at Gillette. We check for ear and body piercings and ask patients to remove any metal jewelry or hair accessories. We have private changing areas and lockers to store clothing and personal belongings. 

We also ask whether there is any metal inside the body. Examples include: 

  • Baclofen pumps 
  • Vagus nerve stimulators 
  • Pins to repair broken bones 
  • Pacemakers 
  • Dental implants 
  • Heart valve replacements or cardiac stents

In addition, we screen any caregivers who will be in the scanning room for metal.

Screening for Possible Pregnancy

Patients who are pregnant or who believe they could be pregnant should talk to their doctors before having MRI scans. In addition, parents or caregivers who are pregnant or believe they could be pregnant shouldn’t be in the room during an MRI scan. Information discussed with a doctor is confidential.

Female patients who are 12 and older must have a urine or blood pregnancy test before receiving sedation medicine and/or contrast dye.

Giving Sedation Medicine 

We make every effort to help our patients relax by creating a soothing environment. If a patient will be unable to remain still during an imaging scan, sedation might be necessary. Talk to your doctor if you think sedation might be necessary for you to complete this test. 

Using Contrast Dyes 

For some types of MRI scans, we give contrast dye by mouth or into a vein through an intravenous (IV) line. Patients who have ever had a reaction to contrast dye should tell their doctors. Patients who need contrast dye will receive information about this. 

During the Scan

This section provides basic information about what to expect during an MRI scan. 

Getting Into Position 

We help patients get into position on the table. If we’re doing a head scan, we position the head in a special helmet called a head coil. 

Performing the Scan 

Once a patient is in position, the table slides into the MRI machine. We control the machine from another room, where we can see the patient and communicate back and forth with a two-way speaker.

The MRI machine will make loud banging and knocking noises during the scan. We give patients and anyone else in the room earplugs or headphones with music. We ask patients to stay very still to make sure that we get clear pictures. At certain times, we might ask patients to hold their breath for a few seconds.

MRI scans can take 15 to 90 minutes to complete, depending on the body part that needs testing. If we’re scanning more than one body part, the visit will take longer. 

Supporting Patients

The most important thing parents and caregivers can do is to help children stay calm during imaging scans. They can do this by staying calm themselves. Parents and caregivers also can prepare the patient for the scan by following the home-preparation tips discussed earlier in this piece.

In some cases, parents or caregivers can be in the room during a scan. When possible, parents can reassure children by talking to them, holding their hands and distracting them with familiar stories or thinking games (spelling, addition, etc.). It’s important, however, to avoid interfering with the instructions of the MRI technologist. 

After the Scan

When the scan is finished, the table will slide out of the MRI machine. We’ll remove any straps or monitoring equipment. 

Recovering 

Children who receive sedation medicine will go to the recovery area so we can watch them until the medicine wears off. 

Receiving the Results 

We usually send the results to the doctor within 48 hours. If the results are urgent, we’ll contact the doctor immediately. Questions about the results should be discussed with the doctor. 

For More Information 

For more information about imaging tests at Gillette, please call the Advanced Imaging Center at 651-229-3995.

This information is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace the advice of your health care providers. If you have any questions, talk with your doctor or others on your health care team.