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Pediatric Cardiac MRI
A magnetic resonance imaging scan of the heart, called cardiac MRI, is an important tool for diagnosing and even treating congenital heart disease.
What is Cardiac MRI?
Cardiac MRI is a noninvasive imaging procedure that uses magnetic technology, not radiation, to create detailed images of the heart. The procedure provides your child’s heart team with high-resolution images of the moving heart and blood vessels, so we can see how the heart looks and functions.
At Children’s National Heart Institute, our specialized hybrid MRI suite combines MRI and cardiac catheterization, allowing us to obtain detailed diagnostic images and perform cardiac catheterizations in the least invasive, safest way possible.
In a partnership with the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health, we're also enhancing the safety of imaging through MRI. The joint team’s work will translate clinically to more streamlined use of MRI, which is radiation-free. The initiative seeks to enhance the speed and quality of MRI machines and reduce the need to sedate children getting an MRI; increasing the capability of MRI to take fetal images; developing better, pediatric-specific catheters for probing the heart and blood vessels; and incorporating an incubator into an MRI scanner to enable procedures on premature babies. Read more about this partnership's work.
Hybrid Cardiac MRI Suite at Children’s National
Our heart team is pioneering new ways to harness the power of MRI, so we can provide you with the safest, most effective diagnosis and treatment possible. In our hybrid suite, we combine the powerful imaging technology of an MRI with the precision and detail of the catheterization lab.
Features of our cardiac MRI hybrid suite include:
- Minimal exposure to radiation. Traditional cardiac catheterization uses radiation. While we always use the lowest dose possible, we are working to minimize radiation exposure even more. By using MRI technology to guide a catheterization procedure, we are able to obtain detailed images with minimal or no radiation exposure.
- 3-D images. The 3-D MRI technology allows us to take the images we get from the MRI study and view them from every angle. This gives us more information about your child’s condition, helping us treat him or her even better.
- Specialized team. Our team consists of pediatric specialists who have dedicated their careers to pediatric heart care. Our experienced cardiac MRI technologists have extensive training in pediatric cardiac imaging. While many heart programs are adult-centered and may also treat children, our focus is entirely on treating infants, children, and adolescents.
- Convenient. If your child needs both an MRI and a catheterization procedure, we may be able to perform them at the same time if your child meets certain criteria. This reduces the amount of sedation your child needs.
- Comprehensive evaluation. Echocardiography, an ultrasound for the heart, is a popular, safe diagnostic tool. However, as children get physically bigger, the echo may be less effective. We use cardiac MRI extensively for adolescents and adults with congenital heart disease because it offers the most comprehensive, detailed evaluation available.
- Next level of cardiac care. Our team continues to investigate and advance the field of cardiac imaging. We are one of the few hospitals in the world working on capabilities that will allow us to do cardiac interventional procedures in the MRI suite. This will lead to the most minimally invasive and effective procedure for your child.
Who Needs Cardiac MRI?
We use cardiac MRI to diagnose congenital heart defects and provide noninvasive evaluation for complex conditions, such as:
Cardiac MRI for Children: What to Expect
While every patient differs, here’s a general idea of what you can expect on the day of the procedure:
- Before your child’s MRI, we will discuss the procedure with you in detail. We encourage you to ask any questions you may have. We will also discuss with you if we are using contrast during the MRI, a material that helps us visualize your child’s heart better.
- Your child may need sedation, depending on their age and ability to lie still. Parents can wait in the waiting room with a pager, so we can let you know when the procedure is finished.
- If your child will not be receiving sedation, one parent can be in the room (unless the parent has a health concern that would make it unsafe).
- We perform the MRI, which takes 45-60 minutes.
- We discuss the results with you.
The pediatric heart experts at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C., provide advanced care for unborn babies, children and young adults with heart conditions.
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Teresa, age 2, was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy and waited on the Berlin Heart EXCOR® Pediatric Ventricular Assist Device (VAD) for nine months while she waited for a heart transplant. Her heart arrived on Christmas Day.
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