Cardiac MRI Program
What is cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)?
Cardiac MRI is a noninvasive test that uses radio waves, magnets and a computer to make detailed moving and still pictures of the heart and major blood vessels. The scan may be used to create 2-dimensional or 3-dimensional images. It lets your child’s heart doctor (pediatric cardiologist) and radiologist check the heart muscle, valves and chambers and the blood flow through the heart.
Cardiac MRI is one of the most advanced imaging techniques. It is the “gold standard” for diagnosing problems with the heart’s pumping chambers (ventricles). It is most helpful when other tests, like echocardiography, do not provide enough details. An MRI does not expose your child to radiation. Learn more about MRI (PDF) (Russian) (Spanish).
What is the Cardiac MRI Program?
Seattle Children’s Cardiac MRI Program provides MRIs for babies, children and teens, and we interpret the results. We do about 300 cardiac MRIs each year.
Our pediatric specialists use the latest MRI technology to diagnose and plan treatment for heart conditions including:
- Coarctation of the aorta
- Single ventricle defects
- Tetralogy of Fallot
- Transposition of the great arteries
- Truncus arteriosus
What’s special about the Cardiac MRI Program at Seattle Children’s?
- All our providers are board-certified in pediatrics, which means they have extra training and years of experience caring for kids.
- We only do tests that we believe your child needs for medical reasons. We avoid putting your child through tests they do not need.
- A cardiologist, radiologist and technologist work together to do your child’s cardiac MRI scan. They will plan and carry out the scan based on details of your child’s case.
- Cardiac MRI helps us diagnose your child’s condition while reducing your child’s exposure to radiation.
- We use 3-D images made with cardiac MRI to plan complex repair procedures.
How long does a cardiac MRI scan take?
The test may take anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours. Based on your child’s age, we may give them medicine to make them sleep (anesthesia) before the scan.
After the scan, it takes a few days to process the images. When the results are ready, your child’s cardiologist will meet with you to talk about the results.
Scheduling an Appointment for a Cardiac MRI
- If you would like an appointment, ask your child’s provider for a referral.
- If you have a referral, call Radiology at , and select option 1 for scheduling and then option 2 for MRI, or call toll-free at .
- Before we can schedule your child’s MRI, a Seattle Children’s radiologist needs to approve it. This takes 1 week. After your child’s provider orders the test, please wait at least 1 week before you call to schedule.
- Learn about Heart Center resources such as useful links, videos and recommended reading for you and your family.
What to expect
Here are more details about what to expect:
- For some cardiac MRI tests, your child may need an intravenous (IV) line to put a small amount of contrast liquid into their bloodstream. We will place this line when you come for the test and remove it before you leave.
- Starting 2 hours before the test, do not give your child food, and limit how much they drink. This helps the small number of children who have nausea after getting the contrast. Also, keep in mind your child will not be able to use the bathroom during the test.
- To take clear pictures of your child’s heart, we may ask your child to hold their breath for 7 to 15 seconds at a time during the test.
- If your child is scheduled for an MRI without anesthesia but we find they need anesthesia (for example, if they cannot lie very still for the whole test), we will need to reschedule their test for a different day. (Most children do not need anesthesia.)
- If extra support and coaching would help your child with the MRI, our Child Life specialists can talk with them before and on the day of the test. Child Life specialists know how to help children understand tests in ways that make sense for their age.
Contact the Heart Center at for a referral, a second opinion or more information.
Providers, see how to refer a patient.