An MRI, which stands for magnetic resonance imaging, is a type of imaging that uses a large magnet, radio waves and a computer to take pictures of inside the body. It is a noninvasive way for a pediatric radiologist to examine your child’s organs, tissues and skeletal system. Radiologists can see cross-sectional 3D images that may be viewed from different angles.

What does an MRI machine look like?

Most MRI machines are large, tube-shaped magnets. At Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, we do not use open MRI units, as they do not produce images that meet our quality standards.

Why does my child need an MRI?

An MRI produces high-resolution images that help doctors diagnose a wide range of conditions due to injury, illness or congenital abnormalities.

Is it safe for my child to have an MRI?

MRIs do not use radiation and do not have any known harmful effects on children.

What happens before an MRI?

Your child will change into a gown before the MRI. You will be asked to complete a screening form before you or your child enters the MRI room. It will ask about any metal present in or on you or your child’s body or in your pockets. No metal items are allowed in the MRI room. Some examples include:

  • Hair and body glitter
  • Hairpins and barrettes
  • Beeswax
  • Metallic-based makeup
  • Jewelry
  • Clothing with metal fasteners
  • Safety pins
  • Hearing aids
  • Cellphones
  • Pens
  • Watches
  • Keys

An MRI technologist (a person trained in taking MRI pictures) or nurse will bring you and your child into the MRI area. If contrast (dye) is needed, we will start a small I.V. (a needle put into a vein in your child’s hand, arm or foot before the test). Sedation (a medicine that helps your child go to sleep for the test) may also be given through the I.V. if your child cannot hold still.

You may stay with your child during the test if he is not sedated and you do not have any metal in your body that is unsafe in the MRI area. Note, pregnant mothers and siblings are not allowed in the room.

What happens during an MRI?

The MRI machine is a tube into which a special bed slides. Your child will lie on the bed with a safety belt over him. He can talk to the technologist if needed. He will be watched through a window while the pictures are being taken. A technologist takes pictures and checks the films to make sure they are good quality.

Your child will need to lie still for 30 minutes to two hours. Older children may be able to watch a video or listen to music during the MRI. You may bring a favorite movie from home for your child to watch.

What happens after an MRI?

The technologist or nurse will give you any special instructions and tell you when your child can leave. If your child is sedated, he will need to stay until he is awake. If contrast was given, it will leave your child’s body through his urine within 24 to 48 hours after the test. The color of his urine should remain normal.

After the test, your child may eat or drink as usual, unless your child’s doctor tells you not to feed him.

When do I get the MRI results?

A radiologist will review the pictures and send a report to your child’s doctor. If there is a serious problem that requires treatment, your child’s doctor will be notified before you leave the radiology department. Your child’s doctor will contact you with the test results in about three to five days. Call your child’s doctor if you have not heard any test results after five days.

Preparing for your child’s imaging appointment

Research shows that children and parents cope better with medical procedures when they are prepared ahead of time. Here is general information to help you and your child prepare.


Advanced technology and pediatric experts

At Children’s, we combine the power of advanced 3T MRI technology with the expertise of our pediatric radiologists so your child’s doctor has the information needed to care for your child. We have MRI physicists on our team who work alongside pediatric radiologists to produce the highest-quality images and provide clinical information to better diagnose your child.

Protocols for kids

Our MRI physicists, in conjunction with pediatric radiologists, developed protocols tailoring each exam to a patient’s age and condition. This is particularly important in pediatrics because of a broad array of medical conditions and patient sizes—from fetal to newborns and young adult.

Oftentimes, adult providers use generic imaging protocols provided by the manufacturer regardless of a patient’s age or condition. At Children’s, you can rest assured that the imaging protocol used for your child will be based on the type of injury or illness and your child’s age.

Child friendly

We have child life specialists who are trained to help children through an MRI. Also, our staff is dedicated to performing scans on kids and offers extreme patience and diversions, such as watching a movie or listening to music. In addition, we allow parents to stay with their children in the MRI room.

Sedation and anesthesia

Sedation is sometimes needed for MRIs in order to keep your child still during the exam. Sedation may be needed due to your child’s age or because of developmental or physical issues. We also offer general anesthesia for children with certain medical conditions.


Upon completion of scans, our pediatric radiologists will look at the images and send a report to your child’s doctor.

Complete the appropriate MRI screening form prior to your child’s visit.

We offer MRI services at the following four locations in metro Atlanta.