Angie's LIST Guide to
Pediatric Radiology

If your child is faced with an unforeseen illness, your pediatrician may recommend a pediatric radiologist to help make an accurate diagnosis using imaging tools like X-rays, MRIs and CAT scans.


Photo collage of babies and doctors.
Children often are diagnosed with illnesses and conditions that affect adults, but because of their special needs, they are often referred to pediatric specialists. Specialists in all areas can provide treatment plans to improve health and quality of life.

What is a pediatric radiologist?

Pediatric radiology is the study of a child through diagnostic imaging. A radiologist who is specially trained in the musculoskeletal system and anatomy of children will carefully examine X-rays, MRIs, CAT scans and other diagnostic examination results. A radiologist is trained to help diagnose specific illness, conditions, disease, injuries and underlying medical conditions based on the results of the imaging test.

Radiology plays one of the most important roles in a patient's overall diagnosis and treatment plan. A trained radiologist examines the images, ultrasounds and other nuclear medicine imaging taken by the technician. Looking at multiple slides or images helps the radiologist interpret the results with pinpoint accuracy. In many cases, each image is cross-checked or audited by another radiologist to confirm a diagnosis. Sometimes they don't make a diagnosis but instead make a recommendation the child's pediatrician to draw his or her own conclusion from the results.

You can find a pediatric radiologist at most major medical centers, hospitals and children's hospitals. Radiologists who work with children faced with chronic illness will need to be specially trained to detect certain rare medical conditions to assure that they meet quality standards in healthcare.

Radiologists attend medical school and have up to four additional years of specialized training in clinical medicine as well as diagnostic radiology. Their additional training allows them to receive credentials in specialized areas such as oncology, urology and conditions of the musculoskeletal system. Some radiologists specialize in conditions directly related to infants in the neonatal unit.

Radiologists specializing in pediatrics often work a variety of shifts in a hospital or private clinic. Many radiologists are on call, especially in hospital emergency rooms and after-hour clinics, to evaluate an X-ray result.

When to see a pediatric radiologist

The study of pediatric radiology varies by practice and medical doctor. Some pediatricians will see patients up to the ages of 19 to 21, whereas others stop seeing children at the age of 12. A child is faced with the risk of certain diseases and medical conditions that are different from those experienced by adults, which is why your child may need to see a radiologist who specializes in pediatric radiology.

A diagnostic imaging procedure may be ordered from a pediatrician or family doctor. An emergency room doctor may also request an order for radiology in order to rule out an injury or make an accurate diagnosis. Being able to look inside the body to diagnose common and rare ailments is the main goal of most radiologists. They do so by examining slides and screens taken from a diagnostic imaging machine. Locating broken bones, examining organ function, examining organ shape, checking for obstruction or mass, evaluating blood flow and evaluating spinal placement are all common reasons for your child to visit the radiologist.

Benefits of pediatric radiology

The main benefit of your child having an X-ray or diagnostic imaging procedure is confirmation of a suspected diagnosis. This will help your child's pediatrician proceed with the best course of action for his disease or ailment. In many cases, a diagnostic imaging result can find a medical problem before symptoms manifest. Certain types of cancers, organ enlargement and dysplasia can be detected through diagnostic imaging or nuclear medicine. Underlying conditions can then be closely monitored throughout the upcoming months or years to help improve his overall quality of life.

It is important to note that X-rays and other types of imaging may be harmful to your child's health long-term. The Alliance for Radiation Safety in Pediatric Medicine reports that there is a slight risk of cancer development over a lifetime in 1 out of every 1,000 pediatric CT scans. Ask your pediatrician and radiologist about any potential side effects. 


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