Making MRIs Less Scary for Kids


Having a doctor recommend a magnetic resonance imaging scan can make anyone nervous, and kids are no exception. If your child has an upcoming MRI scan, they may be understandably apprehensive about the procedure. As a parent, you likely want to soothe your child’s fears regarding their MRI scan, and this page will provide tips on how you can best do so.

What Is an MRI?

If you aren’t sure what an MRI entails, it can be challenging to adequately reassure your child about the scan. Doctors use MRI scans to get an accurate picture of the inside of someone’s body. Through a combination of powerful magnetic fields and radio waves, MRIs can provide detailed images of internal organs, muscles, nerves, bones, ligaments and other tissues.

Unlike x-rays and other types of scans, MRIs do not expose the patient to any form of radiation. When techs and patients follow MRI safety guidelines, an MRI examination carries almost no risk for the average patient. The magnetic field used to produce the image is not harmful, but it can cause internal medical devices to malfunction — be sure to inform your technologist if your child has any medical implants.

To begin the procedure, your child will lie down on the examination table and enter the MRI unit, and the technologist will conduct the scan from another room. Most MRI scans use multiple runs, which can take several minutes apiece. A typical MRI could last from 15 to 90 minutes, depending on how many scans your doctor has ordered.

When you understand what an MRI is and how it works, you will be ready to help prepare your child for the experience.

Is an MRI Scary for Kids?

An MRI is an entirely new experience for most kids, and for a young person who has never experienced any medical scan before in their life, the idea of entering an MRI machine could multiply their nerves tenfold.

Aside from the newness of the experience, an MRI typically takes place in a small, narrow tube, with only a little extra room on either side. MRIs give the best results if the patient stays as still as possible, and there isn’t much elbow room to move around — but for kids who are claustrophobic or prefer to be out in the open, the tight space in the MRI unit might be scary.

Finally, MRIs can include a startling array of loud noises. Even though technologists often inform patients beforehand of upcoming sounds, the machine’s thumps or clicks can be scary for children.

MRIs are completely painless and safe. But sometimes, such reassurances are not enough for children, so what are some other ways you can make MRIs less scary for kids?


How Do I Prepare My Child for an MRI?

Not every child will respond the same way to MRIs — the experience will be a breeze for some, while others will need extra reassurances or accommodations. You can look into any combination of the following tips to ensure your child has the best MRI experience possible.

Explain the Procedure

Now that you understand what an MRI entails, you can better explain it to your child. A lot of a child’s fear about their upcoming MRI could be that they don’t know what to expect. By reassuring them they will be completely safe and the procedure is painless, your child will feel much more reassured about their MRI.

Accompany Your Child

Talk to your doctor about whether you can stay with your child during the procedure. Typically, doctors will allow you to join your child in the exam room once you take off all metal objects such as jewelry. Having a familiar presence nearby should significantly reduce your child’s nerves.

“Gamify” MRIs

One possible way to ease your child’s fears about getting a medical scan might be to gamify MRIs for children. For example, challenge your child to a contest to see who can stay still the longest. By making the MRI seem fun, the procedure will go faster, and your child will focus on the game rather than on the scan.

Bring Entertainment

If your child goes into the MRI without any form of sedation or anesthetic, entertainment options are often available to take patients’ minds off the procedure. You will have to ask your doctor before the procedure to confirm what their practice offers, but children can bring their favorite movies to watch during the scan, or ask for headphones to listen to music. Whatever options are available will help pass the time and provide enough familiarity and distraction to ease your child’s nerves.

Preview the MRI Facilities

This tactic may not work for everyone, but if you believe your child could benefit from seeing the MRI machine before their procedure, you can take an advance visit to look at the scanner. For many people, previewing the MRI machine’s size will reduce fears of claustrophobia. Similarly, becoming familiar with the scanner beforehand, even by walking around it, could help ease the anxiety that sometimes accompanies a brand-new medical procedure.

Use a Faster MRI

While not available for every scan or at every facility that offers MRI scans, fast MRI scans can be an ideal way to make MRIs less scary for kids. Instead of staying inside an MRI machine for an hour or more, children can have a scan lasting 20 minutes or less.

Colorado Springs Imaging is now offering a pediatric fast brain MRI. For MRI brain scans, families can choose between one-minute, three-minute, five-minute and 15- to 20-minute variations of our rapid technique. The time spent in the MRI will depend on the amount of detail needed from the scan, but even the longest of these options is much shorter than a typical MRI. Our pediatric fast brain MRIs are excellent for kids who might be scared about their upcoming scan.


Schedule an MRI Without Fear

The newness of the experience, combined with the tight spaces and loud noises, can make MRIs a scary procedure for some children. At CSI, our doctors and technologists work with families to ensure your child’s MRI is as pleasant as possible, while still upholding our excellent quality of care.

Browse our locations to request your next diagnostic imaging appointment. Our world-class facilities, compassionate care and accurate results ensure a pleasant and reliable experience.

Call To Schedule Your Appointment

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