Division of Medical Imaging
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
In 2003 the WCH installed a MRI scanner which enables children to have state of the art imaging services at the WCH. The purchase of the MRI was possible thanks to the generosity of a number of supporters: this included a $1m donation from the Little Heroes Foundation. This contribution was matched by the South Australian Government.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is one of the latest diagnostic methods used to look inside the body without the use of x-rays. It is even believed to be safe for unborn babies. MRI is very useful for detecting abnormalities of the brain, spinal cord, blood vessels, joints and other internal organs.
During MRI, pictures are taken at different angles and are processed by a computer to produce a detailed picture of the body part being scanned. MRI uses a large magnet, radio waves, antenna and a computer to obtain these images. The magnetic fields and radio waves are safe and no adverse health effects have been reported with normal use, providing ferromagnetic metals are kept away from the strong magnetic field.
How to access the service
A referral letter or request form is required from a specialist doctor prior to booking a study. A safety questionnaire must be completed before the study can be booked. Please bring with you the completed questionnaire and the referral letter or request form if your specialist doctor has not already forwarded it to the MRI department.
Some outpatients are scanned at Royal Adelaide Hospital. Your doctor will tell you if this is to be the case.
An appointment must be made for all MRI studies. Appointments may be made by telephoning (08) 8161 7447.
Many of our studies require special preparation. Instructions will be given at the time the appointment is made. If these instructions are not followed it may not be possible to carry out the study and a new time will need to be booked so please be sure to follow instructions carefully.
Information for families
We aim to make the experience as pleasant as possible for you and your child whilst obtaining the information from the MRI study that your doctor requires.
A parent is encouraged to stay with children during the study provided the special MRI safety precautions are met.
Other children will not be allowed to accompany you to the MRI. Please make alternative arrangements for their care on that day. Children up to 10 years old may be cared for in the WCH creche.
The scan time for the MRI study will vary depending on which or how many parts of the body are being examined. This can vary anywhere between 20 to 90 minutes. Your child will be required to lie still for this period of time. This may be difficult for small children or children who find the MRI frightening. Please inform you doctor if your child is claustrophobic or if you think they will be unable to lie still for the time required. Your doctor may need to arrange for your child to have a general anaesthetic for the study. If this is the case special instructions will be given to you.
MRI request forms are available from the Medical Imaging Office – phone (08) 8161 7447.
A safety questionnaire must be completed for all patients, prior to the scan.
A MRI Information Sheet and Contrast Consent Form may also be required to be completed.
Patients requiring a general anaesthetic will need an Admission Booking Form as well as the MRI request form.
Information sheets for MRI studies and general anaesthesia are available from the Medical Imaging office phone (08) 8161 7447.
What should I expect?
When you arrive for your MRI scan, you may be sent to the Holding Bay to prepare for your scan. Here the nurses will ensure you have completed all the appropriate forms. Someone may also apply some numbing cream to the creases of your elbows or the backs of your hands. This is because you potentially may need to have an injection of contrast during the study. Contrast is a special dye that helps highlight certain structures or pathology in the scan. The cream takes approximately 40 minutes to work. A radiographer will then have a chat to you and ask you some very important questions to ensure that you are safe to have an MRI scan. If you have had any previous surgery with an implant inserted, please bring any information you have about this implant. Fasting is not required for scans performed without general anaesthetic or sedation unless stated in your appointment letter. Once the radiographer is satisfied that all safety checks are complete, you will be given a gown or hospital scrubs to change into. This is to prevent anything on your clothing from degrading the image quality of the scans.
For most scans you will be allowed to watch a DVD because the scan can be very long and boring. This will help you pass the time and help take your mind off the loud noise. If you have a favourite movie you can bring it along with you or select one to watch from our catalogue. You will watch the movie through special goggles that rest on your eyes and hear it through headphones that you must wear to protect your ears. You may also listen to music on your phone or ipod. The MRI scanner makes lots of loud knocking noises which change whilst it is taking the pictures. You will not feel any strange feelings during the scan and it will not hurt. The only annoying part is the loud noises. This noise cannot be reduced so you will be provided with hearing protection. If at any time you need to talk to the MRI technologist you can squeeze a buzzer that you hold in your hand. He or she will stop the scan and talk to you through the headphones.
In the MRI scan room is the scanner with a tunnel through the middle. During the scan you have to lie very still in the tunnel. The part of the body being scanned has to be in the middle of the tunnel. Foam cushions, soft straps and sandbags are used to help keep you still. Sometimes a plastic rectangle is strapped to your stomach to monitor your breathing as you may need to hold your breath for some scans. A rubber ring may be attached to your finger to watch your heart rate. A coil, which is like a big antenna, will be placed over the part of the body that is being scanned. This helps to record the pictures.
The scan may take anywhere between 20 minutes and an hour and a half depending on which part of the body needs to be scanned.
Sometimes, you may need an injection of dye, called contrast. This is given to help show up certain parts of your body. You should not feel much if you have had numbing cream on for over half an hour.
Please plan to spend a minimum couple of hours in the MRI department on the day of your appointment. We try to be on time; however, sometimes we are delayed by emergency scans that have priority.
Are there any risks?
There are no known risks associated with having MRI scans when operated in a well-controlled environment. They are painless and have no lasting effects. You may feel warm during certain scans because of the energy used to take the pictures. The scanner does not touch your child during the scan; however, coils may be rested on the body or placed around certain body parts.
MRI scans are not suitable for all people. Patients with certain metal implants inside their body cannot be scanned because the scanner emits a strong magnetic field that could affect the implant. This is why it is important for you to complete the safety questionnaire accurately because it helps us to carry out a thorough metal check prior to your child having the scan.
Any person who enters the MRI scan room needs to complete the safety questionnaire. This includes any person accompanying the patient. It is important that the questionnaire and all relevant medical history are filled in accurately as this is used to ensure the safety of all persons entering the scan room.
The magnetic field may affect some implanted medical devices including certain pacemakers, implanted defibrillators, infusion pumps, various nerve stimulators and embolisation coils. All body piercings, jewellery and medication patches must be removed as these may heat and cause injury or affect the quality of the scan. To ensure safety in the strong magnetic field, other objects that must be removed before entering the scan room include: mobile phones, credit cards, watches, pens, keys, safety pins, hair pins and any metallic or magnetically operated devices.
General Anaesthetic or Sedation
Some children may require a general anaesthetic or sedation to have a MRI scan. Generally, children between three months and five years of age will have the MRI scan under a general anaesthetic. This is because the child needs to remain perfectly still for a long period of time or he or she may find the loud noises frightening and will not co-operate.
Children having a general anaesthetic or sedation will need to "fast" not drink or eat anything for a while before the scan depending on their age. The reason for this is to reduce the risk of stomach contents entering the lungs during and after the procedure and causing complications. Fasting times and instructions will be provided in your admission letter.
On the day of the procedure, your child will be admitted to DOSA. They will be assessed by an anaesthetist and a nurse to ensure they are fit for anaesthesia.
Once the MRI scan is complete, your child will be taken to recovery for a period of time before being sent back to a ward. When your child has adequately recovered and has had something to eat or drink, you will be allowed to take them home. This is usually a couple of hours after the scan.
Fast Feed and Wrap Technique
For babies between newborn to three months of age, we prefer to try the MRI scan using a "Fast, Feed and Wrap" technique. This is instead of performing the scan under a general anaesthetic or sedation. This technique takes advantage of the fact that most babies after a good feed will go to sleep. To increase the chances of this scan being completed successfully, you will be sent detailed instructions to help you prepare your baby. The procedure involves your baby being fasted and kept awake for approximately four hours prior to the scan time. Try to keep your baby awake on the journey to the hospital so that it will be easier for them to fall asleep at the appointment time. Hopefully your baby will be ready to feed and then will be easily settled. Please do not feed the baby until given instructions by a radiographer or nurse to do so. You will need to bring a feed for your baby if you are using formula milk. Also, ensure that your baby is not dressed in any clothes with zips or metal poppers otherwise they will be scanned with just their singlet and nappy on. Bring a large wrap to firmly wrap your baby in.
Once your baby is fed and asleep, we will transfer them in the scan room. Your baby will be positioned on a piece of equipment and immobilized using blankets, straps, sponges and sandbags. Ear protectors will be placed over the ears to minimise any discomfort from the loud noises. Monitoring will be attached to a foot so we can monitor his/her breathing and oxygen levels during the scan. This is because it is difficult to visually see the baby once positioned in the centre of the scanner. A large semicircle piece of foam called an "acoustic hood" will be placed over your baby. The hood is made of a special fabric that helps to dampen the loud noises made during the scan. Initially your baby may cry and be unsettled but we try to continue to scan because eventually most babies will settle with the monotonous banging sounds made by the scanner. They will need to be completely still in the scanner for the images to be diagnostic. In some cases the scan may not be successful if the baby does not settle. In this case the scan may be repeated using this technique on another day or it may be rebooked to be performed under a general anaesthetic. This will be the decision of your referring clinician.
The MRI technologist that performs the scan will not be able to give you any information about the scan results at the time of the examination. Hundreds of detailed images are acquired and take the radiologist a while to review before they can make a report. The results of the scan will be sent to your referring doctor before your next appointment. Results cannot be given over the phone by clerical staff.
If you are unable to keep an appointment time, please contact the MRI department on 08 8161 7447 to cancel or reschedule. There is a long waiting list for MRI scans.
Please confirm you will be attending an appointment if you are sent a confirmation text to your phone. If you do not reply, another patient will be booked at your child's appointment time and he/she will not be able to have his/her scan.
If you do not attend three appointments in a row, your referral for a scan will be closed and we will inform your referrer.
last modified: 19 Dec 2018