Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses a powerful magnet and radio waves to produce detailed images of structures deep within the body. It enables care teams to assess soft tissue and structures in ways that are not possible with computed tomography (CT) scans or X-rays. At Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, your child has access to the best available imaging services, including MRI.

Pediatric MRI Scans: Why Choose Us

Our team includes highly skilled pediatric radiologists, pediatric-trained MRI technologists, radiology-trained nursing staff and an MRI physicist, so you can count on us for exceptional imaging and reliable results. We perform safe, accurate testing and deliver precise interpretations. Meet our team.

Highlights of our program include:

  • Commitment to imaging excellence: Children’s Hospital maintains prestigious American College of Radiology accreditation for MRI scans. This gold standard in radiology services is only awarded to programs that use leading methods and provide high-quality images.
  • Expert sedation services: For some children, it’s safer and more comfortable to undergo an MRI with sedation. We give these children medication to help them sleep through the scans. Children’s Hospital is one of the few programs in Southern California offering pediatric MRI scans with sedation. Our team includes internationally renowned pediatric anesthesiologists who provide services to children of all ages.
  • Child-friendly atmosphere: Children who can tolerate an MRI without sedation receive special attention to make the experience as pleasant as possible. We offer special goggles through which children can watch videos. And our Child Life specialists use age-appropriate techniques to ease anxiety.

How Does MRI Work?

MRIs do not use radiation. Instead, a large hollow machine (MRI unit) with a powerful magnet and radio waves produces 3D images of internal structures.

Your body contains millions of water molecules, each with tiny particles (protons) at the center that are sensitive to magnetic fields. The MRI magnet aligns the protons with the magnetic field. Then bursts of radio waves temporarily knock the protons out of alignment. This does not cause any harm or discomfort.

As they realign, the protons release radio signals. A computer in the MRI unit interprets these signals, making it possible to distinguish different types of tissue within the body.

Getting an MRI Scan: What to Expect

Before the scan, we provide you and your child with information about what to expect and how to prepare. To find out more, read our radiology and imaging patient and family resources.

Here's what happens during a pediatric MRI scan:

  1. Preparing your child for the MRI scan involves changing into a hospital gown and other steps. The Child Life team is available to help your child stay calm and comfortable, making it possible to avoid sedation if appropriate.
  2. If the exam has been scheduled with sedation, our anesthesia team evaluates and prepares your child.
  3. Some MRI scans require contrast material, which is a special substance that enhances images of specific areas. Your child may receive contrast via an injection or swallowing a special substance.
  4. A technologist secures your child to the table in the correct position using special positioning equipment. Your child needs to remain still during the scan to get clear images.
  5. We slide the table into the MRI unit, aligning with the area of the body that needs scanning.
  6. The technologist goes into an adjoining room with a window facing the MRI unit. If not sedated, your child can communicate with us at any time through speakers in the unit. If your child is sedated, our pediatric anesthesiology team provides monitoring.
  7. We start the scans. The MRI machine makes thumping and clicking noises during each scan. We provide ear plugs to protect your child’s ears and dampen the noise.
  8. After the MRI is complete, children who have not undergone sedation are free to go home. Children receiving an MRI with sedation go to a recovery area.

Specialized MRIs We Offer

We offer a broad range of MRI scans. Some examples include:

  • Abdominal and pelvic MRI, which produces images of organs and structures in the abdomen and pelvis. We use this information to evaluate cysts, tumors, bleeds, abnormal structures and other conditions.
  • Brain MRI, which produces images of brain structures that help our neurologists and neurosurgeons evaluate cysts, tumors, bleeds, seizures and other conditions.
  • Cardiac MRI, which gives doctors detailed views of your child’s heart and nearby structures. Read more about cardiac MRI.
  • Fetal MRI, which enables experts to detect and assess certain issues, like heart abnormalities, before a child is born. Find out more about fetal imaging.
  • Functional MRI (fMRI), which evaluates changes in blood flow to the brain while your child performs specific tasks.
  • Magnetic resonance elastography, which uses magnetic resonance technology and low-frequency vibrations to highlight areas of stiff body tissue.
  • MRI arthrograms, which helps pediatric orthopedists evaluate joint issues, including nagging pain and injuries affecting wrists, shoulders and knees.
  • Vascular malformation MRI, which produces images of vascular anomalies throughout the body.

Comprehensive Radiology and Imaging Services for Children

We offer the full range of radiology and imaging studies at our main hospital, in one convenient location. Some of these services are also available at locations throughout the Los Angeles region. Find out more about Radiology and Imaging.