Sedation for Radiology (Special) Procedures

Sedation is medicine to help your child fall asleep while pictures are taken. Many children are sedated because motion or movement on the pictures makes them blurry and difficult to read. A diagnosis may be easily missed if the pictures are not clear and sharp.

Also the test may frighten some children, and it is often less upsetting to be sedated. Sedation is different from anesthesia.

The type of sedation medication is chosen based on the child's age, weight and the exam being performed. Either IV (intravenous) or oral medicines will be used, as described below.

IV Sedation

Medicine will be given through an IV to help your child fall asleep for the test. It is a medicine that will cause deep sleep.

This type of medicine can be used in children of all ages.

An IV is a small tube that is placed into a vein in the arm, hand or foot. Your child will be held down only for a minute while this is done.

You will be allowed to remain with your child to support and comfort him / her while he / she is being sedated.

When the IV is in place, the sedation medicine will be given.

If your child is not asleep after 5-10 minutes, more medicine will be given.

Sometimes a second medicine is given to help a child get into a deeper sleep or to help a child settle down so he / she is able to sleep.

Oral Sedation 

While you are holding your child, a sleeping medicine will be given by mouth. You can then rock your child until asleep.

This type of sedation is most often given to children under 18 months of age.

The medicine tastes bitter. Sometimes children cry or gag when they drink it.

If your child is not sleeping after 20-30 minutes, more of this medicine may be given or an IV may be placed to give a different medicine.  


A nurse will closely watch your child during the test. A machine called an oximeter will monitor the heart rate and the percent of oxygen level in the blood. This is done with a small probe that fits on your child's finger or toe just like a Band-Aid. If there is a problem, the test will be stopped and your child will be cared for as needed.


Each child responds differently to sedation, and there is a risk with any of these medicines that the breathing can slow down even to the point of stopping.

If your child stops breathing, he / she will be helped to breathe until he / she wakes up enough to breathe normally. The care described below is needed less than 1 percent of the time.

Sometimes a child requires oxygen, usually with a small tube placed under the nose or a mask.

Sometimes a child is congested or coughing and the back of the throat or the nose will be cleaned by suction through a small mouth tube.

Sometimes a child's windpipe relaxes or they snore and a plastic piece called an airway is placed in the mouth to pull the tongue forward and open up the throat.

Very rarely a child will actually stop breathing. In this case, your child will be helped to breathe with a bag and mask or, rarely, with a tube into the airway.

Sedation Risks

Some children react in the opposite way to sedation. Instead of falling asleep easily, they begin to thrash and kick and cry. Most children do not do this, but you should be prepared for this in case your child responds this way.

If this happens, the test may be canceled and you will need to bring your child back another day for the test to be done with a different sedation medicine.

Most often when children respond this way, they are able to get to sleep. In this case, they often wake up the same way. The child may be held down to keep him / her from getting hurt and another medicine may be given to help the child fall back to sleep.

After falling back to sleep, the child will be allowed to wake up on his/her own when the sedation medicine has naturally worn off (usually 1-3 hours). After waking up again, most children are calm.  

At the Hospital

When the test is finished, your child will be monitored by a nurse until fully awake or discharge criteria is met.

A nurse will watch over your child and he / she will remain on the oximeter until fully awake.

After sedation, some children wake up right away; others may sleep for hours. It depends on how your child's body responds to the medicine.

When awake, the nurse will give your child some clear liquids to drink and then remove the IV, if one was used.

You can go home when your child can respond to you in the usual way and do things he / she can usually do, i.e., sitting with only a little help if the child is usually able to sit, or holding the head up if the child usually has head control.

The nurse will call a transporter with a wheelchair to help you out if your child is over 35 pounds (15 kg).

If you came by car, you can pull your car up to the circle in front of the doors and the transporter will assist you to get your child into the car.

If not going home by car, inform the nurse of your plans so that preparations can be made for your child to get home safely after sedation.

Children who are hospitalized at the time of the test will return to their hospital rooms when awake.

Once in a while a child awakens very slowly or has a problem during sedation. This may require staying in the hospital. If this is necessary it will be discussed with you.

At Home

When you get home, your child may sleep a lot, be grumpy, have an upset stomach, and he / she may not be able to walk well all day. These things will be discussed with you before you go home.

You will get a discharge instruction form with a phone number to call when you leave.

The doctor who ordered this test for your child will receive the results within 24-48 hours and will notify you of the results.  

Last Updated 06/2015