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What is an abdominal MRI scan? 

Abdominal MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan creates detailed images of the organs and soft tissues inside your abdomen.

To capture images, the MRI machine first creates a temporary magnetic field inside the individual’s body. It then sends out radio waves which alter the alignment of atoms in the part of the body being scanned. When the radio waves are shut off, the atoms realign, sending out radio signals which are picked up by the machine. A computer then processes these signals to create images.

  1. Who cannot have an abdominal MRI scan?
  2. Why is an abdominal MRI scan done?
  3. How should I prepare for an abdominal MRI scan?
  4. How is an abdominal MRI scan done?
  5. How will an abdominal MRI scan feel like?
  6. What do the results of an abdominal MRI scan mean?
  7. What are the risks and benefits of an abdominal MRI scan?
  8. What happens after an abdominal MRI scan?
  9. Contrast vs Non-contrast, Abdominal MRI Scan
  10. What are the other tests that can be done with an abdominal MRI scan?

Your healthcare practitioner may not recommend this test if you:

  • Are pregnant: MRI scan is usually not recommended in pregnancy, as the long-term effects on the developing baby are not known.
  • Have tattoos: Some dyes used for tattoos contain traces of metal which can heat up during the scan.
  • Have any metal inside the body: MRI is avoided when there are metal implants or fragments unless evaluated for safety.

The test allows physicians to look at:

  • Blood vessels and blood flow in the abdomen.
  • Cause of abnormal blood test results, such as kidney or liver problems.
  • Masses in pancreas, liver, kidneys, spleen or adrenals (glands located on top of each kidney).
  • Lymph nodes (glands that fight infection) in the abdomen.

Abdominal MRI is usually used to verify the results of x-rays and CT scans. It helps to distinguish tumours from normal tissues and to determine their size and severity.

Your healthcare practitioner may ask you not to eat/drink for up to six hours before the test. If images of the colon are needed, you may be given a laxative or enema to cleanse the colon. Please tell your healthcare practitioner and the radiologist if you:

You may be given a medicine to reduce anxiety if you have a fear of closed spaces.

Do not carry any jewellery or valuables (watches, keys, etc.) as they are not allowed inside the scan room.

An MRI scan usually involves the following steps:

  • The medical staff conducting your test will ask you to remove all metal objects, including dentures, piercings and hearing aids and change into a hospital gown.
  • You will have to lie on the narrow bed of the MRI machine, which will slide into the scanner.
  • A dye (contrast) may be injected through a vein in your arm to enhance the quality of images.
  • The doctor may also give you a medicine to slow your bowel movements.
  • The staff will operate the MRI machine from another room.
  • Make sure to lie very still while the scan is going on since movements can distort or blur the images.
  • The test usually lasts about 60 minutes but can take longer.

Although the test is painless, you may feel sore after lying in the same position throughout the scan. The bed of the machine may feel cold or hard and you may also feel warmth in the scanned area. 

During the test, the MRI machine will make loud noises. The radiology staff will provide you with earplugs to reduce the noise.

If a contrast is used, you may experience a feeling of coolness when it is injected into your vein.

An abnormal result would reveal conditions such as:

  • Obstruction in the arteries (blood vessels that supply oxygenated blood to an organ) of the kidneys
  • Hydronephrosis (one or both kidneys become due to build-up pf urine)
  • Thrombosis in a vein (formation of a clot in the blood vessel that drains blood from an organ) of the kidney
  • Glomerulonephritis (damage to the part of the kidney that filters blood)
  • Rejection of a transplanted organ
  • Gallstones (stone-like objects in the gallbladder or in the pipe-like system in the liver called bile ducts)
  • Swollen gallbladder or bile duct
  • Enlarged spleen
  • Enlarged liver
  • Portal vein obstruction (obstruction in the portal vein that carries blood from the digestive system to the liver)
  • Abscess (the build-up of pus under the skin that is often painful)
  • Adrenal masses (abnormal growth of adrenal gland present on top of the kidneys)
  • Cancer of the pancreas and intestines
  • Determination of the size, extent and spread of cancer of the uterus, prostate or bladder
  • Tumour of the gall bladder
  • Lymphadenopathy (swelling of lymph nodes)

 The risks associated with this test are:

  • The strong magnetic field may disrupt or displace metal implants. 
  • The contrast dye can have harmful effects on people with kidney diseases that require dialysis.
  • An allergic reaction to the contrast dye can occur in rare cases.

The benefits of this test include:

  • It is painless
  • It does not use radiation.
  • It gives a detailed diagnostic picture.

You can continue with your daily activities soon after the test is completed. However, if you were given a medicine to reduce anxiety, you need to follow the precautions mentioned below:

  • Arrange for someone to be with you for 24 hours after the test.
  • Do not drive a vehicle or use public transport.
  • Avoid working on any machinery on the day of the test.

A contrast dye may be used to improve the image quality in some cases. You may feel some coolness when it is injected. Using a contrast dye may be harmful in people with kidney disease or if they are allergic to the contrast. It may be used in persons with conditions like appendicitis whereas abdominal MRI scan is performed without contrast in conditions like acute abdominal pain and fever.

Based on the condition investigated, the doctor may order other tests such as:

  • Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)
  • Cholescintigraphy (for gallstones)
  • Angiography
  • Biopsy

Disclaimer: All results must be clinically correlated with the patient’s complaints to make a complete and accurate diagnosis. The above information is provided from a purely educational point of view and is in no way a substitute for medical advice by a qualified doctor.

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