What You Need to Know About Specialized Cardiac Imaging for Children
Most children’s hearts are healthy. But if there is a suspected problem, because pediatric heart problems are indeed so rare, it is vital to quickly and thoroughly investigate them. Fortunately, one of the foremost international experts on pediatric heart imaging is right here at Stony Brook Children’s. Dr. James Nielsen explains what parents need to know.
How are children’s heart problems detected?
When a heart problem is suspected, typically the child’s primary care physician will refer the parent and child to a pediatric cardiology specialist for further investigation. This always includes a thorough history and physical exam, and a few noninvasive tests. An echocardiogram is a powerful, painless, noninvasive imaging test that uses high-frequency sound waves (ultrasound) to view the structure and function of a child’s heart. It can help identify congenital defects and evaluate murmurs, and it is used for athlete screenings when needed.
How else can you image a child’s heart?
At Stony Brook Children’s, we are also using cardiac MRI on selected patients. This is a highly specialized procedure, requiring specialized equipment, years of training and physician expertise, and it is a unique service offered to pediatric patients. In some cases, it is a better option for the child because the cardiac MRI can more accurately see conditions in the heart that the echocardiogram cannot pick up. This is especially true in following up on children with congenital heart disease who have had previous cardiac surgeries. Larger chest wall size and post-surgical scarring of the chest limits visualization of the heart and vessel by echocardiogram. Fortunately cardiac MRI does not have this problem, and clear, accurate images of the heart and vessels are still possible in these most complex patients. Cardiac MRI can also be used to diagnose myocarditis, which is a rare inflammation of the heart.
What is the MRI experience like for the child?
Actually, it is a very child-friendly experience. We are fortunate at Stony Brook to have an “open” MRI, which is more patient friendly – less claustrophobic. And because of the machine’s design, parents can remain closer to the child, which can help alleviate fear and improve cooperation with the test. Stony Brook Children’s Child Life specialists can also work with the child beforehand to explain and demystify the test, as well as provide distraction with music during the procedure and stickers as rewards. It is also very safe. MRI does not involve radiation, and there is rarely a need for contrast or an IV.
Where are these tests performed?
The echocardiograms are performed at Stony Brook’s new Pediatric Echocardiography Laboratory at 4 Technology Drive, which is equipped with the latest technology and staffed by highly skilled pediatric cardiology imaging experts — in a soothing, family-centered environment. The MRIs are performed in Stony Brook’s Imaging Center on the hospital campus. We are fortunate here at Stony Brook to have state-of-the-art imaging equipment and facilities that are equal to, if not better than, what’s available in New York City. We are proud to be able to offer this level of advanced care close to home for Suffolk County residents.