MRI: About Your Child's Test

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Open and closed MRI machines

What is it?

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a test that uses a magnetic field and pulses of radio wave energy to make pictures of organs and structures inside the body. When your child has an MRI, he or she will lie on a table. Then your child is moved into the MRI machine, where an image is taken of the area of the body being studied.

Why is this test done?

There are many reasons to have an MRI test. This test can find problems such as tumors, bleeding, injury, conditions that some children are born with, and infection. An MRI also may provide more information about a problem seen on an X-ray, ultrasound scan, CT scan, or nuclear medicine exam.

How can you prepare for the test?

Let your child know that an MRI doesn't hurt. But he or she may feel warm near the area being imaged.

An MRI machine can be loud. Your child may get earplugs or headphones during the test. If you join your child in the room, you may need hearing protection as well.

Ask the doctor if your child will need sedation to help relax before the test. You can also ask if your child will swallow a contrast material before the test.

The doctor will tell you if your child should stop eating or drinking before the test.

How is the test done?

  • Your child may have contrast dye put into their arm through a tube called an I.V.
  • Your child will lie on their back on a table that is part of the MRI scanner.
  • The table will slide into the space that contains the magnet.
  • Inside the scanner, your child may hear a fan and feel air moving. They may hear tapping, thumping, or snapping noises.
  • Your child will be asked to hold still during the scan. And your child may be asked to hold their breath for short periods. You may need to help your child do these things.
  • Your child will be kept safe and comfortable during the test. You may be able to stay in the room with your child. A technologist will watch through a window and talk with your child during the test.

How long does the test take?

The test usually takes 30 to 60 minutes. But it can take as long as 2 hours.

What happens after the test?

  • Your child will probably be able to go home right away, depending on the reason for the test. If your child is in the hospital, he or she will be taken back to his or her room.
  • If your child had medicine to help relax (sedation), he or she may be unsteady after the test. An older child may have trouble walking. A baby may be unsteady when sitting or crawling. It takes time (sometimes a few hours) for the medicine effects to wear off. Common side effects include nausea, vomiting, and feeling sleepy or cranky.
  • If a dye was used, it may make your child feel warm and flushed. It may leave a metallic taste in the mouth. Some people feel sick to their stomach or get a headache.
  • You will be able to go home when your child is awake and the radiologist says it is safe to leave.

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 if your child is having problems. Ask your doctor when you can expect to have your child's test results.

Where can you learn more?

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.