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Types of Diagnostic Imaging Exams

Plain X-rays

X-rays take pictures of the inside of the body. A technologist will position your child then take the X-ray pictures. This does not hurt, but it is important that your child stay still. If your child is very young or cannot stay motionless, we may use a brace to comfortably help them stay still.

Computed tomography (CT)

The CT machine uses X-rays to take detailed pictures of the inside of the body. Your child will need to lie still on a table while the table moves through a large doughnut-shaped machine. The exam lasts about 5 to 20 minutes. Your child may receive an intravenous (IV) injection of contrast, which is a harmless liquid dye used to produce clearer images. Rarely, children may develop an allergic reaction to the contrast, but your child will be monitored closely for this. If contrast or sedation is necessary, a nurse, technologist, or doctor will talk about the procedure with you.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

The MRI machine uses a large magnet to take detailed pictures of the inside of the body. The magnet makes a knocking sound, but the machine will not hurt your child. During the exam, your child will need to lie still on a table inside a tunnel for 20 to 40 minutes. Because of the length of the time that the child needs to lie perfectly still, sedation is usually necessary in young children. Intravenous (IV) contrast is necessary in some cases to obtain certain information. If sedation or contrast is needed, a nurse, doctor, or technologist will talk about the procedure with you.

Fluoroscopic examination

The following examinations use fluoroscopy (moving X-ray pictures) to examine the digestive organs, such as the stomach, small bowel and colon, as well as the bladder. Two parents or caregivers are usually able to accompany a child during these examinations.

Upper GI series (barium swallow)

This test takes about 30 minutes to complete. Infants (newborn to 1 year) and toddlers (1-3 years) should not eat or drink for 3 hours before testing. Older children (over 3 years) should not have anything to eat or drink after midnight the night before the test, if scheduled for the morning. If the test is scheduled for the afternoon, a light breakfast of clear liquids (Jello, apple juice) may be taken. Your child will drink a harmless contrast liquid (flavored barium) for this test. If your child is an infant, the barium is put in a bottle and he or she will drink while the radiologist takes pictures. X-rays of your child's stomach and intestines are taken as he or she drinks the barium. If your doctor requests a small bowel study, additional X-rays will be taken to watch the barium through the entire small bowel. This may take 2 hours or longer.

Voiding cystourethrogram (VCUG)

This test lasts about 30 minutes. Your child will dress in a gown and lie on an X-ray table with his or her legs bent "like a frog." A small amount of colored soap will be used to wash the genital area; this may be cold. A soft lubricated catheter (tube) will be placed through the child's urethra into the bladder. This catheter is smaller that the urethra and slides in easily. Once the catheter is in place, X-ray contrast will drip through this tube to fill the bladder. The radiologist will check the bladder and kidneys on a monitor. When your child feels the need to urinate, he or she will be asked to do so into a bedpan, urinal or towel on the table. This is normal because it is important to see the urethra as he or she voids. Please reassure your child that this is OK. Your child should have no side effects from this test.

Barium enema

This test is used to evaluate the colon.  A small tube is placed into the rectum. An enema is performed with either barium or another liquid that can be seen with X-rays. When this is over, the child is able to go to the bathroom. The exam usually lasts just a few minutes, although the preparation and obtaining radiographs after the child has gone to the bathroom may extend the length of the procedure.

Vascular/interventional radiology

These procedures are complex. Children usually need to be given medicine to stay still and relaxed. Your doctor or radiologist will discuss these procedures with you.


Ultrasound uses sound waves to create pictures of the body. A sonographer puts warm gel on your child's skin and slides a hand-held wand over the body. The wand emits the sound waves, which a computer then converts into pictures. You may stay with your child during this test. It is helpful to bring a favorite toy to keep your child relaxed. The child may also watch a video during the exam.

Nuclear medicine

Nuclear medicine exams provide information about the inside of your child's body during normal body functions. This usually requires giving your child a radiopharmaceutical (tracer) intravenously (IV), orally, or through a small tube into the bladder. Your child should have no side effects from this agent. It is important that your child remain still for this exam. Sedation medicines or anesthesia may occasionally be necessary. Your child may be able to watch a video or listen to music during the exam. Some nuclear medicine exams last two hours or more. More than one visit may be required. Please bring a favorite toy to help your child relax.