Tricky terms explained: Anaesthesia for MRI

Tricky terms explained: Anaesthesia for MRI

Has your child been referred for a scan and you don’t understand all the terminology? Anaesthesia for MRI can be a tricky term in radiology. We explain. 

What does it mean?

When young children need an MRI, they are given an anaesthetic before the scan begins. This is to make sure they do not move during the MRI scan. Anaesthesia is usually indicated for children under eight, but ages may vary depending on individual circumstances.

MRI stands for Magnetic Resonance Imaging. It is a safe and painless imaging procedure that requires the patient to hold completely still for up to 40 minutes. It uses a strong magnetic field and radio waves to produce detailed pictures of the body’s organs and structures so that the radiologist can make a diagnosis. No radiation is used during an MRI scan.

What happens when you come for the scan?

On your arrival, the radiographer will talk you through the medical and safety questionnaire and explain the complete procedure to you.

Your child will change into a hospital gown before entering the MRI room. Parents are encouraged to accompany their children and remain with them until they are asleep. You will need to notify the radiographer if you are pregnant or have a pacemaker or any metal implants.

Qualified medical staff will place a small drip into your child’s hand to administer any medication or contrast needed during the scan. A specialised anaesthesiologist will be present to administer the anaesthetic and monitor your child for the duration of the scan.

Once your child is asleep, you may leave the room and return when notified by the radiographer.

Why does your child need anaesthesia for MRI?

  • Anaesthesia is done because of small children’s inability to remain still while awake.
  • MRI images can be distorted by even slight movement. Anaesthesia helps keep children still, ensuring clearer images.
  • Clear, high-quality images are essential for an accurate diagnosis and an appropriate treatment plan.
  • The small, enclosed space of the MRI scanner can also trigger anxiety and claustrophobia. Anaesthesia therefore helps alleviate any discomfort or fear associated with the MRI process, making it a more positive experience for both the child and their caregivers.

What to remember before the scan

Preparation information will be sent to you, outlining when your child should stop having food or liquid before the MRI. This is always necessary when a patient will be receiving an anaesthetic. Please note that if your child is not nil per mouth when arriving for the scan, the MRI appointment will need to be rescheduled.

Please ensure that you obtain authorisation from your medical aid for the procedure and anaesthetic.

SCP Radiology strongly encourages you to prepare your child for the procedure by watching this YouTube video with them:

Even though the setup may differ, this provides a good overview of what to expect.

This article is part of a series aimed at decoding medical jargon. Visit our news section for more.