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Tests and Services

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)


The Children’s National MRI team performs more than 6,600 MRI procedures annually.  A new MRI suite opened in October 2010 that includes three brand new, state-of-the-art MRI units.  These new MRI units contain the most updated software, hardware, and safety features. 

The image quality and diagnostic capabilities of this new equipment is quite extraordinary.  Children’s National now offers 3 Tesla technology, 1.5 Tesla wide bore technology, and 1.5 Tesla standard bore technology.  Our board-certified pediatric radiologists will determine which MRI scanner is best for your child, based on what your referring (ordering) physician is looking for.

The environment that houses these three new MRI units is colorful, airy, and inviting.  Your child and family will feel comfortable in this setting which brings images from the outdoors inside.  Our caring team of technologists, nurses, schedulers, registrars, radiologists, anesthesiologists, and child life specialists are highly experienced when it comes to the care of children.  Quite simply, when it comes to pediatric MRI scanning, we have the very best staff, equipment, and facilities in the region.

David Wessel, MD, Senior Vice President of the Center for Hospital-Based Specialties and Raymond Sze, MD, Chief of Diagnostic Imaging and Radiology are pleased to announce that the American College of Radiology’s (ACR) Commission on Quality and Safety has granted accreditation to the following diagnostic imaging programs:
-MRI
-Ultrasound
-Computed Tomography
-Nuclear Medicine

Attaining the ACR Gold Seal of Accreditation is an arduous process that involves submission of physician and staff credentials, safety policies, detailed quality assurance records for each scanner, radiation dose calibrations for the ionizing radiation-producing scanners, and multiple samples of actual clinical images from each scanner. All data and images submitted are analyzed by a group of expert radiologists and medical imaging physicists who determine if the site meets the highest standards of quality and safety.

Children’s Division of Diagnostic Imaging and Radiology (Sheik Zayed campus location) achieved this high honor and is now ACR Accredited for a 3-year term. Congratulations to the faculty and staff for their commitment to high quality patient care, patient safety, and overall excellence in imaging.

MR-I Can Do It

A special program available Children’s National Medical Center…

A special program created by Children’s National Medical Center, the MR-I Can Do It helps children ages six and older prepare for a magnetic resonance imaging exam (MRI) without sedation. Before your child’s MRI, dedicated Child Life Specialists from the Division of Imaging and Radiology teach you and your child about the test, about the equipment and the sounds the machine makes, how to get ready, and what happens during the scan.

Knowing what to expect reduces anxiety so your child may stay still and more relaxed during the MRI. Our specialists also explain the very important role parents have in comforting a child.

The program is currently offered at Children’s National main hospital center in the District of Columbia, and at Children’s National Imaging Center in Rockville, MD.

To learn more about this innovative program, please contact Radiology Child Life at Children’s main campus at 202-476-3338, or at the Children’s National Imaging Center in Rockville, MD at 301-765-5727.
What is MRI?
MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) is a diagnostic procedure that uses a combination of a large magnet, radiofrequencies and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and structures within the body. MRI can be used to:
  • Evaluate organ structure
  • Assess blood flow to muscles
  • Evaluate infections
  • Detect tumors

The MRI machine is a large, cylindrical (tube-shaped) machine that creates a strong magnetic field around the patient. This magnetic field, along with a radiofrequency, alters the natural alignment of hydrogen atoms in the body. Computers are then used to form two-dimensional images of an organ’s structure based on the activity of the hydrogen atoms. Cross-sectional views can be obtained to reveal further details. MRI does not use radiation; therefore it is unlike x-rays or computed tomography (CT scans).


What are the MRI Safety Precautions?
MRI does not pose any risks unless your child has implanted metal objects in the body.  Be sure to let your child’s physician and the staff at Children’s National know if your child has any of the following:

  1. Implanted pacemaker
  2. Implanted medication device, such as an insulin pump
  3. Metal clips or pins, or other metal objects in the body
  4. Any bullet wounds, particularly if the bullet remains in the body
  5. Any metal joint replacements or heart valve replacements

All implants or devices must be approved by the MRI Technologists or Radiologists before your child can have his or her MRI scan.  If your child has one of these devices, please bring the name of the manufacturer, the date of placement, and the name and composition of the device.  This will ensure a complete, accurate, and safe screening process for you and your child.

A downloadable PDF is available for assistance with metal screening.

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What is the preparation for a MRI?
Make sure your child is not wearing any metal jewelry, hair clips, or barrettes, as these will have to be removed prior to the test.

If your child's physician schedules a MRI scan and decides to use contrast dye to enhance the pictures, your child may need to be NPO (fasting, nothing by mouth) for several hours prior to the procedure. You will receive instructions about this from your child's physician or another healthcare professional.

Children may receive anesthesia before the procedure to make them feel more comfortable and help them to remain still and quiet during the procedure, which may last 30 to 90 minutes.

Your ordering physician will decide if anesthesia is necessary.  If so, special instructions about how to prepare for an MRI with sedation (anesthesia) will be provided to you by a nurse.  The pediatric nurse will call you 2 to 4 days before your child’s test. 

Parents may stay with their child in the anesthesia prep room until he/she becomes sleepy and reunite with their child before they wake up from the procedure.

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How is a MRI performed?
The MRI scanner is located in a large room. Your child will lie on a narrow table that slides into the hollow tube-shaped scanner.

The MRI staff will be in an adjacent room where the equipment controls are located.  However, they will always be able to see your child through a set of cameras and monitors.  Your child will be closely watched and constantly monitored during the entire procedure.

The MRI scanning machine makes loud banging or knocking noises when adjustments are being made. Children who are not sedated will wear a set of headphones to help protect the ears from the noise of the scanner, and to hear instructions from the MRI staff. Sedated children are fit with protective earplugs. Music may be played in the headphones when instructions are not being given.

Once the procedure begins, your child will need to remain very still at all times so that movement will not adversely affect the quality of the images. At intervals, he/she may be instructed to hold his/her breath.. Your child should not have to hold his/her breath for longer than a few seconds, so this should not be uncomfortable. Young children who cannot remain still for the procedure will be given medication to help them relax or sleep during the MRI scan.

MRI contrast contains Gadolinium, and side effects occur very rarely. The most common effects of Gadolinium contrast injection are injection site symptoms, such as pain, localized warmth, burning sensation. In some cases, chest pain, back pain, fever, weakness, generalized coldness, generalized warmth, arrhythmia, tachycardia, migraine, syncope, vasodilation, gastrointestinal distress, stomach pain, throat irritation, rhinorrhea, sneezing, dyspnea, or wheezing can occur.

Nephrogenic systemic fibrosis (NSF2), also known as nephrogenic fibrosing dermopathy (NFD), was first diagnosed in 1997 and is a rare complication of intravenous gadolinium administration. Risk factors include: advanced renal disease, age 60 years, history of hypertension, history of diabetes, and in adults with a history of severe hepatic disease/liver transplant/pending liver transplant.

Once the procedure is finished, the table will slide out of the scanner. If your child received medication for relaxation or sleep, he/she will be monitored until the medication wears off and he/she is awake again. If an IV was inserted, it will be taken out after the procedure is over and your child is awake.

Should your child experience any problems after the MRI study you can call the MRI nursing desk between 7:30 am and 8:30 pm or come to Children’s emergency department at any time.

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What happens after the procedure?

If your child was not sedated, he/she should be able to resume normal activities immediately, unless your child’s physician instructs you otherwise.

If your child was sedated, he/she may feel groggy, tired, or sleepy for several hours after the procedure.The nurses and doctors will monitor your child until they are sure he/she is ready to go home.

Depending on the results of the MRI additional tests or procedures may be scheduled to gather further diagnostic information.

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Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) - Departments & Programs - Children's National Medical Center