Pediatric MRI Sedation Frequently Asked Questions

Being told your child needs a scan can be scary and overwhelming for parents. How do you decide between your child completing their MRI with anesthesia or awake? Our medical imaging experts answer some of the frequent questions parents may have about Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans:

Can my child do an MRI awake or should they have sedation?

The decision for your child to complete their MRI with anesthesia or awake is based on multiple factors. The following factors may affect your child's ability to complete their MRI without anesthesia: 

  • Your child’s temperament, past coping within the hospital or medical environment, and their willingness to do or try new things 
  • Your child’s ability to hold still when asked or for a long time  
  • Your child’s sensitivity to small spaces and loud noises  
  • Your child’s prior experience with MRI scans or other imaging procedures 

Patients who do not require anesthesia but may still need support for MRI might be eligible to participate in Lurie Children’s Try Without Anesthesia Program. If you are interested in participating, please speak to the imaging scheduling team or contact the program. 

Why would my child need an MRI with anesthesia?  

Beyond the above factors, your child's medical team may suggest they receive anesthesia based on their personal medical history or specific imaging needs, such as the length of the imaging procedure, the nature of the scan (i.e. pre-surgery scans), or past negative experiences in the medical environment. Your medical team will provide you with this information and answer any questions you may have. 

What are the potential risks associated with anesthesia for young children?  

Anesthesia is generally safe, and most healthy children will have no issues undergoing anesthesia. Common side effects after the procedure include:   

  • Sleepiness  
  • Fussiness   
  • Minor sore throat  

Any additional risks may be dependent on your child’s medical treatments or diagnoses and will be covered by your medical team. 

Why might I consider not using anesthesia on my child?  

Outside of your medical team’s recommendations, there are other reasons why you may decide not to use anesthesia on your child, including:   

  • Time: When patients complete their MRI awake, parents and caregivers often need to take less time off from school or work. Patients who undergo anesthesia are encouraged or required to remain out of school for one day and may continue to be fussy or sleepy throughout that time. Patients who complete their MRI awake have no limitation on their mobility or activity and can promptly return to activities of daily living. The wait time to schedule an appointment for awake patients is also shorter than for anesthesia patients.  
  • Meal schedule: Patients who undergo anesthesia may not eat or drink anything for hours before their anesthesia time. Patients who complete their MRI awake have no restrictions on their eating/drinking routines.  
  • Procedure: An MRI without sedation is considered less invasive, especially if there are no additional medications needed. With anesthesia, the child and caregiver typically separate in the MRI preparation area, which can be overwhelming or traumatic for some children with fears of medical staff, medical environments, or falling asleep separate from their caregivers. Patients who complete their MRI awake can have a caregiver with them throughout the experience. 

How do I prepare my child for an MRI procedure with or without anesthesia?  

Whether your child is completing their MRI with anesthesia or awake, Lurie Children’s will help prepare you and your child for the procedure in advance of the appointment, including who you will meet, what your child will be required to do, and what options your child has for comfort throughout their hospital visit.  

The MRI Try Without Anesthesia Program has a specific child life specialist dedicated to supporting children who need additional support or education to complete their MRI awake. Patients of this program benefit from:   

  • Extended imaging time  
  • Preparation before the MRI with the certified child life specialist 
  • Option of a pre-appointment telemedicine visit to help prepare your child  

Find out more about pediatric MRIs here. 

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