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Diagnostic Imaging Scans Without Anesthesia

Imaging scans require your child to stay still for a certain amount time. This is important so that images are clear.

There are several ways to help your child stay comfortable, still, and relaxed. Options might include relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, listening to music, or watching a movie. Your child may work with a child life specialist to know what to expect. Sometimes, your child might need general anesthesia or other types of medicines for the scan.

Medical staff assist with diagnostic image scan.

Your care team can help your child know what to expect during a scan without anesthesia.

Alternatives to general anesthesia during scans

Medicines: There are other medicines that can help your child stay calm and still during imaging scans. Your care team may suggest sedation medicines that make your child feel sleepy or relaxed. Other medicines include medicines to decrease pain or reduce anxiety. 

Non-medicine options: Your care team may also work with your child to try non-medicine options or coping strategies like listening to music, watching a movie, deep breathing, or comfort positions.

Benefits of scans without anesthesia

Advantages of staying awake during a scan include:

  • Fewer risks and side effects: Anesthesia is generally safe, but there are potential risks and side effects. You avoid these risks if your child stays awake.
  • Shorter appointment times: Less time is needed for tests and exams before the scan. Your child will not have to spend time in recovery after the scan.
  • Fasting (NPO) may not be needed: Your child may not have to follow the fasting guidelines (NPO instructions) for anesthesia. This means they can eat and drink normally in many cases. Your care team will let you know if your child cannot eat or drink before a scan.  
  • Sense of control and accomplishment: Using coping strategies successfully can help your child feel more in control of their environment. These skills can help them manage stress and cope with other medical procedures. 

How to help your child have scans without anesthesia

Your care team will talk to you about options for your child. Tell your care team that your child would like to try a scan while awake. Your care team can work with you to develop a plan that is best for your child based on their age, medical needs, and type of procedure. Some scans may require general anesthesia because of how it is done or how long it takes.

A member of your care team will set up a time to discuss your child’s test. They will also ask questions to learn more about your child. This will help them know if your child can stay still long enough for the scan. Your care team will provide education and support to help prepare you and your child for their scan.  

Ways to help your child get ready for scans may include:

  • Explain what to expect including what they will see, hear, and feel.
  • Have your child practice being still at home; make it a game and have them try for longer times.
  • Do practice sessions in a mock scanner.
  • Meet with a child life specialist or psychologist to learn coping strategies like deep breathing and relaxation exercises.
  • Plan for entertainment during the scan, like listening to music or watching a movie.
  • Bring a comfort item like a stuffed animal or blanket.
  • If a scan is early in the morning, have your child stay up a little later than normal the night before. If the scan is late in the day, have your child get up early or avoid napping before the scan time. Your child is more likely to fall asleep during the scan if they are tired.

Talk to your child's care team about ways to help your child be calm and still during scans. Towels, cushions, or safety belts may be used to help your child be comfortable and keep them in the correct position for the scan. Staff will be able to see, hear, and talk to your child during the test.

If your child struggles to stay still during a scan, the care team can:

  • Talk to your child and answer questions
  • Help them practice
  • Help you figure out what works best to lead them to success

If your child cannot stay still the first or second time, that's OK. Your child can always try again during a future visit.  

Questions to ask your care team about scans without anesthesia

  • Does my child need general anesthesia for this scan?
  • Can my child try being awake during this imaging test?
  • What happens if my child cannot stay still during the scan?
  • What are some ways to help my child stay still during the scan?
  • My child has had anesthesia for scans in the past. How can we transition to being awake?
  • What are the risks and benefits of not having anesthesia and staying awake for scans?

Key points about scans without anesthesia

  • Your child may be able to have an imaging scan without anesthesia if they can stay still. Staying still is necessary to get a clear image.
  • There are several benefits to staying awake during a diagnostic imaging test. Talk to your care team about making a plan for your child to try a scan while awake.
  • Alternatives to general anesthesia may include other types of medicines or non-medicine strategies.
  • Staff can help your child prepare to stay awake for a scan. Once successful, your child may be awake for future scans.
  • Some scans may still require general anesthesia because of how the scan is done or how long it takes.


Reviewed: January 2024