Magnetic resonance imaging offers doctors a highly detailed medical imaging technique that has certain advantages over medical imaging that uses ionizing radiation, like x-rays and computed tomography (CT). While CT imaging uses x-rays and provides excellent detail of solid organs, the head, skeleton, and GI tract, MRI scans, which use magnetic fields and radio frequency pulses, offer outstanding detail of organs, soft tissues and other internal structures. In many cases differences between normal and abnormal tissue are clearer on MRI images than CT images. MRI scans don’t use ionizing radiation, but the scans generally take longer and can be noisy.
In many instances CT scans are the medical imaging technique of choice. However, MRI is well-suited for revealing soft tissue abnormalities and can offer information about blood flow in order to detect metabolic changes in tissue. These changes may occur far earlier than any larger, structural changes that would show up on a CT scan. Because children are more susceptible to the effects of ionizing radiation than adults are, physicians try to limit these types of medical imaging studies to instances when they’re clearly necessary. MRIs sound perfect due to their excellent detail and lack of ionizing radiation. But unfortunately, it’s not that simple.
Why MRIs for Kids Are More Challenging than for Adults
Obtaining a high quality MRI image requires that patients be completely still when lying inside the scanner – sometimes for an hour or longer. Naturally, this is difficult for many children. What’s more, the loud noises of an MRI scanner and the confined space also tend to upset children. For some MRI scans, patients must be able to hold their breath on command to prevent movement of the chest and abdomen from distorting the resulting image, and young children may not be able to do this.
To get around these problems, children may undergo sedation or anesthesia before having an MRI scan. In some cases, the child’s breathing is controlled by a ventilator so the torso can be perfectly still when necessary. But these techniques make medical imaging much more invasive and bring in the risks associated with anesthesia. Plus, MRI scans are expensive to begin with, before the costs of anesthesia or sedation are added in. Additionally, availability of a scanner may not correspond to availability of an anesthesiologist, adding to the complexity of the situation.
MRI Scanners Made Specifically for Children
Shreyas Vasanawala, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor at Stanford University, has worked with colleagues at Stanford and the University of California at Berkeley to adapt MRI scanning for pediatric use. The approach uses better motion correction as well as advanced image reconstruction that allows scan times to be significantly reduced. Additionally, working with GE Healthcare, Vasanawala and colleagues have developed child-sized receiver coils for MRI scanning of the abdomen. The smaller coils enhance image clarity, and because they’re used in a parallel array rather than sequentially, scanning can be done much faster.
When this type of advanced technology is combined with advanced pediatric workflows that take into account a child’s age and potential diagnoses, the use of anesthesia for pediatric MRI patients can be avoided in many cases. This combination of technology and workflow could make pediatric MRI more practical for more children, allowing doctors to take advantage of the advantages of MRI over other medical imaging techniques.
Pediatric Medical Imaging Requires Specific Proficiencies
Pediatric medical imaging generally requires more forethought than medical imaging for adults. Not only can it be challenging to get young children to cooperate for imaging procedures, children are more affected by ionizing radiation than adults are, so pediatric specialists want to be sure x-rays and CT scans are absolutely necessary before ordering them for children.
Medical imaging specialists like Michael Arch, MD and Shawn Fibkins, MD of SteleRAD, are pediatric radiology subspecialists who understand the many factors that influence what type of medical imaging children undergo. They also have proficiency in obtaining the highest quality images with the lowest risks and least amount of discomfort and anxiety for patients (and their parents).
SteleRAD’s Experience in Pediatric Medical Imaging
Particularly when it comes to children, medical imaging must weigh all advantages and disadvantages, both short and long term, so doctors can obtain the images they need with the least invasive techniques and least patient discomfort and risk. At SteleRAD, the owners and operators are Board-certified radiologists representing all radiological subspecialties, including pediatric radiology. To learn more about how SteleRAD provides services to South Florida hospitals, imaging centers, and medical practices, call us at 954-358-5250 or contact us online at any time.