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Pediatric Head MRI

Imaging of the brain and organs of the head


Pediatric Head MRI

When your child needs medical imaging, it’s great to know that ARA’s experienced and caring team of technologists and pediatric radiologists are ready to meet your family’s needs.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a diagnostic exam that combines a strong magnetic field, radio waves, and a computer to generate images of the inner structures of the brain. It does not use any ionizing radiation. We recommend this test to evaluate symptoms such as severe headache, memory loss, blurred vision, seizures, slurred speech, and loss of balance.

Imaging children is different than imaging adults, requiring particular radiologic skills. At ARA’s Mueller Children’s Imaging Center, our pediatric radiologists and knowledgeable technologists are able to get the right imaging for your child’s diagnostic needs while meeting the emotional needs of the child and their family.

We’ve designed everything with the child in mind, including brightly colored murals and art, cheerful colors, and televisions playing child-friendly shows, all made to relax your child and help them feel at ease. We understand that your child may be anxious, and our technologists are experts at helping them relax and understand the exam at an age-appropriate level. Our technologists bring everything together to get the best imaging to diagnose your child and make it a good experience for the family.

Animated Kid’s Video

We encourage you to watch this video with your child so they know what to expect. MRI exams are painless except for a possible needle stick if your child is getting a contrast agent through an IV. But the machine can be loud and may feel scary to some children. Being prepared for the scan is a great start to a positive experience for you and your child.


Your doctor may recommend a head MRI if your child has symptoms that a brain disease or disorder could cause, such as:

  • Tumors, including metastases
  • Stroke
  • Infections
  • Developmental anomalies
  • Hydrocephalus (enlargement of spinal fluid cavities in the brain)
  • Epilepsy (seizure disorder)
  • Bleeding (hemorrhage)
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Eye and inner ear disorders
  • Pituitary gland abnormalities
  • Aneurysms, blood vessel blockages, or clots

Brain MRI may also be recommended when planning for brain surgery, radiation therapy, or biopsy.


  • Head MRI scan is non-invasive and painless.
  • In a single scan, a head MRI can evaluate soft tissue and blood vessels.
  • MRI scanning does not expose your child to any ionizing radiation.
  • Head MRI images offer a high level of detail which makes them useful for detecting very small abnormalities, like tumors at an early stage.
  • Head MRI can find stroke at an early stage since the exam is very good at detecting changes in fluid motion (called diffusion). These changes may appear within less than 30 minutes of a stroke.


  • Specific medical devices implanted into your child’s body may be at risk of malfunction due to the strong magnetic environment. See Can I have an MRI if I have metal in my body?
  • In very rare cases in patients with poor kidney function, nephrogenic systemic fibrosis is a possible complication when contrast is used. ARA follows all American College of Radiology (ACR) guidelines for screening kidney function with all applicable contrast agents.
  • A head MRI usually takes between 20 to 45 minutes to complete.
  • Upon arrival, the parent/guardian and child check in at the front desk. Parents can choose to accompany their child through the entire exam in which case they will need to go through the same steps. Both the parent and child put their shoes and personal items into a locker and change into a gown, pants, and socks. All jewelry and metal must be removed. Then they stand on a metal detector and rotate around to ensure there is no metal present. Parents must also fill out the Patient History/Contrast form and the Metal Screening form. If the parent is female, they will need to fill out the Pregnancy Release form.
  • Your technologist may place an intravenous (IV) line into your child’s arm inside their elbow if contrast solution is required for the exam. The IV introduces a contrast agent into the body to make the image clearer. IV placement may be uncomfortable and may cause bruising later, but this is not the case for most. A saline solution drip may be used to help keep the IV line open.
  • Your technologists will escort both the parent and child into the MRI room.
  • When the images are scanning, your child will hear loud knocking, tapping, or thumping sounds. To help minimize the sound of the MRI machine, your child receives earplugs or headphones with music.
  • We help your child get positioned on an adjustable exam table that may have straps or bolsters to keep their body from moving. We place a helmet called an MRI coil over your child’s head. The coil enhances the MRI signal.
  • The technologist will leave the MRI room where you and your child are and conduct the exam from a computer in a control room. You and your child will be able to speak with the technologist at all times. The technologist has direct visualization of your child and the room. They will keep you informed of what is happening as the exam progresses.
  • When the procedure begins, the table moves your child towards a cylinder-shaped machine (the magnet).
  • MRI scanners are constructed with short tunnels that are open on both ends. Most people do not find this uncomfortable, but please mention this to your scheduler if your child is anxious. ARA may be able to schedule your child’s exam on one of our open-bore or short-bore MRI scanners or plan for your child to have light sedation. ARA pediatric technologists and our clinical staff are experts at helping children through MRI exams with minimum anxiety.
  • During the exam, your child might feel warmth in the body part being examined. If this becomes uncomfortable, they should let the technologist know.
  • Some patients experience side effects from the contrast material in rare cases, such as nausea or headache. If your child experiences any discomfort, let the technologist know.
  • After the exam, the technologist removes the IV, and both the parent and child change back into their clothes. Your child receives a sticker celebrating their journey.
  • Your child will be required to change into a gown. If you choose to accompany your child, you will need to change as well. If possible, leave all jewelry and metal objects at home.
  • Unless instructed otherwise, your child may follow their regular diet and routine before the exam. Your child should take all their medications as usual.
  • Some MRI exams require a prep which may include no food or drink for a specified time before the exam. Your scheduler will inform you of preparations if needed. If you receive no special instructions, your child may follow their regular diet and routine before the exam.
  • Ask your doctor for specific directions about your child’s daily medications if instructed to refrain from taking them.
  • Be sure to tell your technologist about any illness or allergies your child may have. Also, provide a list of their current medications.
  • If your child has claustrophobia, panic attacks, or anxiety, you might choose to have us provide sedation before the exam. Please mention this to your scheduler when making your appointment.
  • Before you schedule an MRI, refer to the section Can I have an MRI if I have metal in my body? to get more information about metal devices, implants, or any other metal that might be affected by the magnet.
  • In some cases, we may take an X-ray before the MRI to detect any metal present inside your child’s body.

To schedule a pediatric head MRI, please use our online scheduling tool in the Patient Portal or you may call our scheduling team at (512) 453-6100 or toll free at (800) 998-8214. A referral from your healthcare provider is required to make an appointment.

A radiologist, a physician specifically trained to interpret pediatric radiological examinations, will analyze the images and send a signed report to the provider who referred your child to ARA. The physician will then share the results with you.

ARA wants to provide a safe, comfortable environment for patients and staff.

An adult member, parent, or legal guardian shall serve as a chaperone for all minor patients. If there is no family member, parent, or legal guardian available to chaperone the patient, or if the patient prefers, ARA will provide an employee to serve as a chaperone.

If the patient, parent, or legal guardian is not comfortable with an ARA employee serving as a chaperone, the patient will be given the opportunity to reschedule their exam.


Video: MRIs at ARA Diagnostic Imaging

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