Imaging Sedation Safety: Is It Safe?

Banner image for sedation safety article

In short, sedation is a safe option for medical imaging exams. Sedation usually affects children more than adults, but at UVA we prioritize imaging sedation safety, and we work with both adults and children to help them avoid unnecessary sedation during their exam.


Understanding Imaging Sedation Safety

Sedation may be an appealing option for your medical imaging exam if you struggle with claustrophobia or anxiety. Similarly, you may be interested in learning more about sedation and imaging sedation safety if you are the parent of a squirmy child.  After all, any movement during the exam has the potential to decrease the image’s quality. This might require a retake–or, more seriously, it could possibly affect the diagnosis.

There is no doubt that sedation is a very attractive solution to some patients. But it should only be used when it is absolutely necessary to obtain clear images. As we said, sedation is a safe option. Still, it’s important to understand that, as with any medication, frequent and heavy sedation can present some side-effects.

We recommend that patients avoid sedation if it is not a necessity. If you do need it, however, don’t worry! The value of a high-quality image outweighs the small risk of side-effects. When sedation is necessary, we use the minimal amount needed to reduce recovery time and minimize the potential for side-effects. To help you prepare for your exam, we’ve created a diagram of information you may want to know:

(Text-Only Version)

Infographic explains the side effects of sedation

How Should I Proceed with Imaging Sedation Safety?

Consult with your doctor about any concerns you have with staying still or remaining calm during your exam. Together, you can decide if medication is the right choice for you.

At UVA Radiology and Medical Imaging, we offer resources to help you make decisions about imaging sedation safety. We want you to complete your exam with the smallest amount of sedation possible (preferably none!). For example, we have Child Life Specialists who might be able to help you child complete the exam without it. Read more about sedation and your medical exam, or learn more about imaging sedation safety from the American College of Radiology.





Infographic Text: Side-effects of Sedation


Not all side effects occur in everyone. More severe side-effects usually only occur with heavy sedation and when you have sedation more than once. Children are more susceptible to sedation-related side-effects.
  • Mild (Common) Side-effects:
    • Drowsiness and Dizziness: This is the most common side effect of sedation. Do not operate machinery or make important decisions after being sedated.
    • Nausea, vomiting, and aspiration: Aspiration can occur if there is solid food in your system and it enters your lungs after vomiting or coughing.
    • Headache and sore throat: Headaches and sore throats have been reported after sedation is used.


  • Moderate (Less Common) Side-effects
    • Confusion, restlessness, and agitation: It is normal to be confused after sedation, and changes in mood can happen.


    • Reduced heart rate and changes in blood pressure: Sedatives slow your heart rate which can also affect your blood pressure.


  • Severe (Rare) Side-effects:
    • Prolonged recovery and trouble sleeping: Some patients take days to recover from sedation. Others have trouble sleeping the following night or nights.
    • Delirium and memory loss: Although extremely rare, memory loss can occur in some patients when they receive large amounts of sedation.


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