Child’s MRI for Appendicitis: A Parent’s Guide

Appendicitis affects about 1 out of every 1,000 people in the United States, and because the condition tends to occur between the ages of 10 and 30 years, it’s one of the most common emergency conditions for children. It’s a serious, life-threatening condition, that requires the removal of the appendix via a simple surgery (an appendectomy).

For parents, that’s a frightening concept, so we hope we’re able to allay some fears: Appendectomies are relatively minor, low-risk surgeries. Before your child gets treatment, however, they’ll need a proper diagnosis, and that’s usually accomplished with an appendicitis MRI. Here’s what you need to know — and what to ask your MRI technicians when you’re preparing for the examination.

Why Would My Doctor Recommend An MRI for Suspected Appendicitis?

Most parents know the classic symptoms of appendicitis: nausea, abdominal swelling, fever, loss of appetite, and — most notably — dull or sharp pain in the abdomen. As these symptoms are common with a number of diseases, your physician will want to use medical imagery to verify that your child’s appendix is inflamed.

In past decades, physicians have commonly used computerized tomography (CT) scans to diagnose appendicitis. However, that’s recently fallen out of favor; CT scans use ionizing radiation, which can be dangerous, especially when a child receives a large number of CT scans over the course of their life.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a safer technology, and it presents a clearer image of body structures than computerized tomography. When an MRI examination is possible, it’s generally considered a better option.

What Happens During An Appendicitis MRI?

During an MRI examination, your child will lay on a table, which will move through a scanner tunnel. The tunnel is open on both ends. Your child will need to stay totally still during the exam, which can take anywhere from 15 to 90 minutes.

The machine uses strong magnetic fields to realign that forces protons into alignment. It then turns the magnetic fields off, then measures the energy released when the protons realign. While that sounds scary — or fun, depending on your point of view — patients don’t feel anything, and the process is completely safe.

Your medical imaging team will probably use a gadolinium-based contrast dye to improve the quality of the diagnostic images from the MRI. Contrast dyes are exactly what they sound like: They improve the effect of the MRI’s magnets so that the appendix (and other body structures, depending on the goal of the MRI) shows up in greater contrast.

We’ve got other pieces about the safety of gadolinium-based contrast dyes, but here’s the takeaway: They’re considered very safe, and they have a low incidence of side effects. The most common side effects include nausea, headaches, and localized rashes, but these effects occur in a small percentage of patients.

If your child has asthma or severe allergies, be sure to tell your imaging team. They’ll be ready to treat any side effects that occur as a result of the dye injection.

Will My Child Be Uncomfortable During An MRI?

The MRI examination won’t directly cause discomfort. However, many children have trouble sitting still during the course of the exam, and some experience claustrophobia. MRI machines are also fairly loud, which can cause some anxiety, especially with younger children.

Fortunately, a well-trained medical imaging team will be able to make the process easier. Some newer MRI machines are outfitted with video screens, which allow kids to watch movies during the examination. You can also inquire about open MRI machines, which can perform scans without sending children through the typical “tunnel” setup of a traditional MRI.

As a last resort, some facilities sedate children during the MRI. This usually isn’t necessary, particularly with older children, but talk with your physician to review options.

Are MRIs Dangerous For Children?

MRIs are not dangerous. They don’t use any type of ionizing radiation, and as such, they cannot cause cancer or any other serious health condition.

Contrast dyes can cause side effects, but as we mentioned earlier, most side effects are minor and can be easily treated onsite. Ultimately, appendicitis

How Should I Prepare My Child for an MRI?

Your child will probably wear a medical gown during the procedure. If they’re wearing their own clothes, they should dress in loose-fitting garments without any metal fasteners (the powerful magnetic fields of the MRI machine will attract any magnetic metal). Your child can’t wear any jewelry, watches, hairpins, or anything else that could be affected by the machine.

Your physician may ask you to avoid giving your child food or fluids prior to the examination in order to increase the effectiveness of the contrast dyes, but once you leave the facility, they can resume a normal diet.

Tell your physician about all of your child’s health conditions. Your child may not be able to receive gadolinium injections if they’ve had severe kidney disease, for instance, and conditions like asthma may affect the choice of contrast agent. MRIs are typically safe for patients with metal implants (for instance, orthopedic implants), but tell your physician and imaging team anyway. They’ll be able to make an appropriate decision.

What If My Child Doesn’t Have Appendicitis?

An MRI scan can provide quite a bit of useful information, so if your child doesn’t have appendicitis, the scan might still help you find a diagnosis. For instance, if your child has a stomach flu (gastroenteritis), the stomach may appear inflamed on the MRI image.

The scan will also show intestinal blockages, swollen lymph nodes, urinary tract infections, and other common conditions that could cause symptoms similar to appendicitis. And, just to reiterate — MRI scans are completely safe, so if your physician asks for this type of examination, you should certainly schedule one as quickly as is possible.

MRI scans are often more expensive than CT scans, largely due to the relatively high cost of the equipment. Unfortunately, this cost is often passed along to the patient; a single MRI examination can cost $3,000 or more at some facilities. Insurance typically covers most of this expense, but the patient’s portion can still be excessive.

At, we help patients find qualified imaging facilities for appendicitis MRIs and other essential examinations. We carefully vet our facilities to ensure high quality of care, particularly for younger patients.

Whether you’re looking for an open MRI to reduce the anxiety of a pediatric MRI or you’re simply looking for a way to reduce costs, we can help. Appendicitis MRIs are available for as little as $250, and you don’t sacrifice quality of care — all of our examinations include radiology reports and other essentials that will help your physician make an accurate diagnosis.

To get started, click here to find guaranteed prices in your area, or call our scheduling team at 888-322-7785 to book your appointment. You can also schedule your procedure by email; just drop us a note at or visit our contact page to find an affordable appendicitis MRI today.


Brian, James and Michael Moore. “MRI for appendicitis in pediatric patients.AppliedRadiology. Anderson Publishing, 2019. Web. 6 Mar. 2019.

Children’s (Pediatric) MRI for Appendicitis.RadiologyInfo. Radiological Society of North America, n.d. Web. 6 Mar. 2019.

Pediatric Appendicitis.Children’sNational. Children’s National Health System, n.d. Web. 6 Mar. 2019.