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Fetal MRI

What is a fetal MRI?

Fetal Magnetic Resonance Imaging, or fetal MRI, is a non-invasive and painless procedure that provides detailed information about the anatomic structure of a fetus including the fetal brain, spine, face and neck, chest and lungs, and abdomen and pelvis (including bowel and urinary tract).

What is the benefit of a fetal MRI?

Fetal MRI is performed as a complement to, rather than as a replacement for, ultrasound studies performed in the OBGYN’s or maternal-fetal medicine provider’s office; and is tailored to address the specific questions and concerns of the referring provider. Because of the way that ultrasound imaging works, sometimes it can be difficult to comprehensively assess suspected fetal anomalies using ultrasound. Fetal MRI “looks” at the baby a different way, and in some circumstances provides the best way to assess these suspected abnormalities.

For example, if there is a suspected fetal brain abnormality identified by an ultrasound, a fetal MRI can be helpful to confirm and further characterize the finding, as well as look for other possible brain abnormalities. A 2017 large multicenter, prospective study in the UK (MERIDIAN study) which compared the diagnostic accuracy of ultrasound with fetal MRI in the assessment of suspected fetal brain abnormalities demonstrated the diagnostic accuracy was 68% for ultrasound and 93% for fetal MRI, with the additional information obtained from the MRI reported to change the prognosis in 44 percent of cases. 

Is a fetal MRI safe?

Fetal MRI examinations are performed around the world, and there is no known detrimental effects on the fetus. Multiple studies assessing the safety of fetal MRI have not demonstrated any significant detrimental effects.

The fetal MRI procedure uses “ultra-fast” MRI sequences to capture images of the fetus, which do not utilize ionizing radiation.

The use of MRI during pregnancy is considered standard of care by the American College of Radiology, the Society for Pediatric Radiology, and the International Society of Ultrasound in Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Who performs and interprets the fetal MRIs performed at CHoR?

Our pediatric radiologists have a combination of training and subspecialty certification in pediatric radiology, as well as additional training in pediatric neuroradiology. This expertise combined with state-of-the-art technology ensures highly professional and comprehensive care for moms and unborn babies with suspected congenital abnormalities.

Our pediatric radiologists have advanced training to perform and interpret fetal MRI images to confirm diagnosis or provide information for congenital abnormalities including, but not limited to:

Our fetal MRI studies are performed by MRI technologists who have been trained to do this specific type of study by our pediatric radiologists, and the studies are always performed under the direct supervision of one of our pediatric radiologists.

What should I expect?

  • Because powerful magnets are used, no metal objects can be present in the scanner room. Jewelry and other accessories should be left at home, if possible, or removed prior to the fetal MRI procedure. You should also tell the technologist if you have any medical or electronic devices in your body as these objects may interfere with the exam or potentially pose a risk.
  • Upon arrival at the Children's Pavilion imaging center the technician may ask you to change into a hospital gown.
  • We prefer that you lie on your back during the fetal MRI procedure. If this is uncomfortable, we will position you on your side.
  • Depending upon the MRI unit that you are scanned on, you may have the option of watching a movie during the study using special MRI-compatible movie goggles. If this is the case, you are welcome to bring a DVD from home, or to select one from our library.
  • All MRI units have the ability to play music via earphones that can be selected prior to the study.
  • The fetal MRI procedure typically runs between 45 and 60 minutes.
  • The MRI technologist will speak with you throughout the procedure.
  • You can resume normal activity immediately after the study.

As the fetal MRI procedure is performed, all of the images are reviewed by an attending pediatric radiologist. This information is then communicated to your referring provider in a report, and (if applicable) is also communicated with the provider(s) you are seeing at VCU.

How should I prepare for a fetal MRI?

Please avoid products containing caffeine the day of your study. We also recommend that you do not have sugary foods/drinks for three hours before your scheduled MRI time, as this is believed to potentially make the fetus more active.

If you have had prior imaging (MRI or ultrasound) from an outside provider which has not already been given to the Radiology Department, if possible, please bring this with you on CD.

Why choose CHoR?

Our radiology team provides a full range of imaging services for infants and children of all ages, including newborns, as well as pregnant women.

The Children’s Pavilion offers the region’s most leading-edge imaging technology in a child and family-friendly environment.

Your personal navigator

A diagnosis of a suspected fetal abnormality can be stressful. Our Complex Prenatal Care Coordinator works closely with you and your referring provider to ensure ease of access for appointments and important information.

Contact our Complex Prenatal Care Coordinator, Vickie Weatherholtz, at (804)-350-8805 to schedule an appointment.

Reviewed for medical accuracy 8/20: Gregory Vorona, MD.