MRI of the Head: About Your Child's Test

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An open and a closed MRI machine

What is it?

MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) is a test that uses a magnetic field and pulses of radio wave energy to make pictures of the organs and structures inside the body. An MRI of the head can give your doctor information about your child's brain, eyes, ears, and nerves.

When your child has an MRI, he or she lies on a table, which moves into the MRI machine.

If you aren't pregnant, you may be able to stay in the room with your child during the test. You will also have to remove all metal objects while you are in the room.

Why is this test done?

An MRI of the head can help find problems such as infections, tumours, and bleeding. It can also show the type and size of head injuries.

How can you prepare for the test?

Talk to your doctor about all of your child's health conditions before the test. For example, tell your doctor if:

  • Your child is allergic to any medicines.
  • Your child has any metal in his or her body, such as pins, clips, or medical devices.
  • Your child has kidney disease.
  • Your teen is or might be pregnant.

What happens before the test?

  • Your child will remove all jewellery, watches, hairpins, and other metal objects.
  • Your child may need to take off some of his or her clothes. If so, he or she will be given a gown to wear during the test. If your child does leave some clothes on, take everything out of the pockets.
  • The doctor may give your child medicine to help him or her relax and stay still for the test.
  • Your child may have contrast dye put into his or her arm through a tube called an IV. Contrast dye helps doctors see blood vessels and other structures in the head.

What happens during the test?

  • Your child will lie on his or her back on a table that is part of the MRI scanner. The head, chest, and arms may be held with straps to help your child lie still.
  • The table will slide into the space that contains the magnet. A device called a coil may be placed over or wrapped around your child's head.
  • Inside the scanner, your child will hear a fan and feel air moving. He or she may hear tapping, thumping, or snapping noises. Your child may be given earplugs or headphones to reduce the noise.
  • Your child will be asked to lie still during the scan and may be asked to hold his or her breath for short periods.
  • A technologist will be watching through a window and talking with your child during the test.

What else should you know about the test?

  • An MRI does not hurt.
  • If your doctor uses a contrast dye, your child may feel a quick sting or pinch when the IV is started.
  • Your child may feel warmth in the area being examined. This is normal.
  • If your teen is breastfeeding and is concerned about whether the dye used in this test is safe, she should talk to her doctor. Most experts believe that very little dye passes into breast milk and even less is passed on to the baby. But if your teen prefers, she can store some of her breast milk ahead of time and use it for a day or two after the test.

How long does the test take?

  • The test usually takes 30 to 60 minutes but can take up to 2 hours.

What happens after the test?

  • Your child will probably be able to go home right away, depending on the reason for and the results of the test.
  • Have your child drink plenty of fluids for 24 hours after the test if contrast dye was used, unless your doctor tells you not to. The fluids will help clear the contrast dye out of your child's body through urine.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to keep a list of the medicines your child takes. Ask your doctor when you can expect to have your child's test results.

Where can you learn more?

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