Kids Health Info

MRI scans

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a way of taking detailed pictures of the inside of the body. It is useful for looking at many parts of the body and often gives extra information to plain X-rays, ultrasounds or CT scans.

    During an MRI scan, the part of the body being scanned will have images taken from several different angles. That's why the images are so detailed.

    MRI uses radio waves in a strong magnetic field to obtain the pictures. It is generally only the noises made by the machine that people are aware of during the imaging; there are no strange feelings.

    Is MRI safe?

    The magnetic field and radio waves used in MRI are believed to be safe even for unborn babies. There is no ionizing radiation (e.g. X-rays) used in MRI.

    What should I expect?

    It is important to listen carefully when we ask you questions. The MRI scanner is like a big square box with a tunnel through the middle. During an MRI scan you have to lie very still in the tunnel, usually on your back. The MRI machine makes some loud knocking noises which change during the study.

    The table you lie on is narrow. You can see what is happening through mirrors that are positioned so you can see around the room, and you can talk to the MRI technologist performing the scan through a microphone and headphones. The scan time will vary depending on which or how many parts of the body are being examined, but will usually take 25-45 minutes.

    Foam cushions and soft straps are used to help you keep still. A soft flexible wrap goes over your stomach and records the radio waves for the pictures. If you like, you can wear headphones to muffle the loud knocking noise of the machine.

    In most instances you will be scanned in your normal clothes, however occasionally it may be necessary to change into a gown or other hospital clothes.

    The MRI scan is long and boring so you can bring a favourite DVD, CD or plug your iPod into our MRI compatible sound system to help pass the time. Your DVD or music from your iPod are streamed into the MRI scan room using MR safe technology.

    Are there any needles?

    No injections are used during the procedure unless your scan requires intravenous MR contrast; see Kids Health Info factsheet:  MRI with contrast.

    Can anyone be with me during my MRI scan?

    One person may stay with you in the MRI room, provided they follow the rules and special precautions.

    Special precautions

    All people entering the MRI room need to fill out an MRI questionnaire before the scan. It asks about your medical history and helps the MRI department ensure your safety and that of any accompanying person who may stay with you in the scanning room. It is very important that this questionnaire is filled in accurately.

    The magnet may affect some medical devices that have been implanted in your body. These include older style pacemakers, implanted defibrillators, various nerve stimulators, infusion pumps and embolisation coils.
    In general, all body piercings and other jewellery must be removed.  This is because the metal in the piercing may affect the quality of the scan.

    The following items are affected by the magnet and are not allowed into the scanning room for safety reasons: watches, pens, keys, jewellery, hair pins, safety pins, mobile phones, credit cards, pagers, radios and CD players.

    Follow up

    MRI scans have many pictures with great detail that often take a long time for the radiologist (medical imaging specialist) to review and report on. The technologist performing the study will not be able to give you any information about the imaging findings at the time of the examination. Clerical staff can not give out results over the telephone.

    We will try to get the result of your scan to your doctor before your next appointment.

    If you have any questions about why you need an MRI scan, or questions about the results of your MRI scan, please speak to your doctor.

    Key points to remember

    • MRI scans have more pictures and much greater detail than other X-rays or ultrasound scans.
    • An MRI scan is believed to be safe with no adverse effects when operated in a well controlled environment.
    • You can leave straight after the scan.

    More information

    Where do I go and how long will it take?

    MRI is located in Medical Imaging on the lower ground floor of the north building at The Royal Children's Hospital.

    Although we try to be on time, we are sometimes delayed by emergency scans. You will be able to leave immediately after your scan.

    What if I am unable to keep my appointment or need to cancel?

    There is a waiting list for MRI scans so if you are unable to keep the appointment please contact the MRI Department as soon as possible (T) 03 9345 4301 or 03 9345 4303


    Developed by the RCH Dept of Medical Imaging. First published: October 2010

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This information is intended to support, not replace, discussion with your doctor or healthcare professionals. The authors of these consumer health information handouts have made a considerable effort to ensure the information is accurate, up to date and easy to understand. The Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne accepts no responsibility for any inaccuracies, information perceived as misleading, or the success of any treatment regimen detailed in these handouts. Information contained in the handouts is updated regularly and therefore you should always check you are referring to the most recent version of the handout. The onus is on you, the user, to ensure that you have downloaded the most up-to-date version of a consumer health information handout.