Home > Health Library > Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) of the Abdomen
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a test
done with a large machine that uses a magnetic field and pulses of radio wave
energy to make pictures of organs and structures inside the belly. In many
cases MRI gives information about structures in the body that cannot be seen as
well with an
For an MRI test, you are placed
inside the magnet so that your belly is inside the strong magnetic field. MRI
can find changes in the structure of organs or other tissues. It also can find
tissue damage or disease, such as infection or a tumor. Pictures from an MRI
scan are digital images that can be saved and stored on a computer for further
study. The images also can be reviewed remotely, such as in a clinic or an
operating room. Photographs or films of selected pictures can also be
In some cases, contrast material may be used during the MRI scan to
show certain structures more clearly in the pictures. The contrast material may
be used to check blood flow, find some types of tumors, and show areas of
inflammation or infection.
Although MRI is a safe and valuable
test for looking at structures and organs inside the body, it is more expensive
than other imaging methods and may not be available in all medical
You may be able to have an MRI with an open machine that doesn't enclose your entire body. But open MRI machines aren't available everywhere. The pictures from an open MRI may not be as good as those from a standard MRI machine.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the
abdomen is done to:
Before your MRI test, tell your doctor
and the MRI technologist if you:
For some abdominal MRI tests, you may be asked to not eat
or drink before the test.
You may be asked to sign a consent form.
Talk to your doctor about any concerns you have regarding the need for
the test, its risks, how it will be done, or what the results will mean. To
help you understand the importance of this test, fill out the
medical test information form(What is a PDF document?).
You may need to arrange for someone to
drive you home after the test, if you are given a medicine (sedative) to help you relax.
A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test
is usually done by an MRI technologist. The resulting pictures are usually
interpreted by a
radiologist. But some other types of doctors can also
interpret an MRI scan.
You will need to remove all metal objects
(such as hearing aids, dentures, jewelry, watches, and hairpins) from your body
because these objects may be attracted to the powerful magnet used for the
You will need to take off all or most of your clothes,
depending on which area is examined (you may be allowed to keep on your
underwear if it is not in the way). You will be given a gown to use during the
test. If you are allowed to keep some of your clothes on, you should empty your
pockets of any coins and cards (such as credit cards or ATM cards) with scanner
strips on them because the MRI magnet may erase the information on the
During the test, you will lie on your back on a table that
is part of the MRI scanner. Your head, chest, and arms may be held with straps
to help you remain still. The table will slide into the space that contains the
magnet. A device called a coil may be placed over or wrapped around the area to
be scanned. A special belt strap may be used to sense your breathing. The belt
triggers the machine to take the scan at the right time.
people feel nervous (claustrophobic) inside the MRI magnet. If feeling nervous
keeps you from lying still, you can be given a medicine (sedative) to help you
Inside the scanner, you will hear a fan and feel
air moving. You may also hear tapping or snapping noises as the MRI scans are
taken. You may be given earplugs or headphones with music to reduce the noise.
It is very important to hold completely still while the scan is being done. You
may be asked to hold your breath for short periods of time.
may be given a medicine, such as glucagon, to slow bowel movements for some MRI
During the test, you may be alone in the scanner room. But
the technologist will watch you through a window. You will be able to talk with
the technologist through a two-way intercom.
If contrast material
is needed, the technologist will put it in an
IV in your arm or hand. The material may be given over
1 to 2 minutes. Then more MRI scans are done.
An MRI test usually
takes 30 to 60 minutes but can take as long as 2 hours.
You won't have pain from the magnetic
field or radio waves used for the MRI test. The table you lie on may feel hard
and the room may be cool. You may be tired or sore from lying in one position
for a long time.
If a contrast material is used, you may feel some
coolness when it is put into your IV.
In rare cases,
you may feel:
There are no known harmful effects from the
strong magnetic field used for MRI. But the magnet is very powerful. The magnet
may affect pacemakers, artificial limbs, and other medical devices that contain
iron. The magnet will stop a watch that is close to the magnet. Any loose metal
object has the risk of causing damage if it gets pulled toward the strong
Metal parts in the eyes can damage the
retina. If you may have metal fragments in the eye, an
X-ray of the eyes may be done before the MRI. If metal is found, the MRI will
not be done.
Iron pigments in tattoos or tattooed eyeliner can
cause skin or eye irritation.
An MRI can cause a burn with some
medicine patches. Be sure to tell your doctor if you are wearing a
There is a slight chance of an
allergic reaction if contrast material is used during
the MRI. But most reactions are mild and can be treated using medicine.
Contrast material that contains gadolinium may cause a serious problem (called
nephrogenic systemic fibrosis) in people with
kidney failure. If you have decreased kidney function
or serious kidney disease, tell your doctor before having an MRI scan.
There also is a slight risk of an infection at the IV site if contrast
material was used.
If you breast-feed and are concerned about whether the dye used in this test is safe, talk to your doctor. Most experts believe that very little dye passes into breast milk and even less is passed on to the baby. But if you prefer, you can store some of your breast milk ahead of time and use it for a day or two after the test.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a test done with a large machine that uses a magnetic
field and pulses of radio wave energy to make pictures of organs and structures
inside the belly.
radiologist may discuss initial results of the MRI
with you right after the test. Complete results are usually available for your
doctor in 1 to 2 days.
An MRI scan can sometimes find a problem in
a tissue or an organ that is not seen by
CT scan, even when the size and shape of the tissue or
organ looks normal.
The organs and blood vessels are normal in
size, shape, and location.
No abnormal growths, such as tumors, are
No blockage is found in the ducts draining
the liver, gallbladder, or pancreas.
No blockage is found in the tubes (ureters) that lead out of the kidneys.
No bleeding, abnormal collections of fluid,
blockage in the flow of blood, or bulges in the blood vessels (aneurysms) are present.
No signs of inflammation or infection are
An organ is too large, too small, or in
the wrong place. The MRI also may show areas of scarring or injury.
Growths are found, such as tumors that
could be either benign or cancerous. Signs of infection may be
A collection of fluid is present, which
could mean you have internal bleeding or an infection.
A bulge in the wall of a blood vessel
(aneurysm) is present. Blockage in or narrowing of a blood vessel also may be
Blockage is present in the
bile ducts. Reasons for the blockage may include a
gallstone, tumor, infection, or inflammation.
Blockage is present in the tubes leading
from the kidneys (ureters). Reasons for the blockage may include a kidney
stone, tumor, infection, or inflammation.
Reasons you may not be able to
have the test or why the results may not be helpful include:
Other Works Consulted
Chernecky CC, Berger BJ (2008). Laboratory Tests and Diagnostic Procedures, 5th ed. St. Louis: Saunders.
Fischbach FT, Dunning MB III, eds. (2009). Manual of Laboratory and Diagnostic Tests, 8th ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
Pagana KD, Pagana TJ (2010). Mosby’s Manual of Diagnostic and Laboratory Tests, 4th ed. St. Louis: Mosby Elsevier.
ByHealthwise StaffPrimary Medical ReviewerKathleen Romito, MD - Family MedicineE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal MedicineSpecialist Medical ReviewerHoward Schaff, MD - Diagnostic Radiology
Current as ofAugust 21, 2015
Current as of:
August 21, 2015
Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine & Howard Schaff, MD - Diagnostic Radiology
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
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