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Abdominal MRI Scan

Abdominal MRIs are conducted to identify conditions and injuries in the general belly area. They are often issued to detect things like tumours, Crohn’s disease, cirrhosis and pancreas issues.

MRIs are almost always ordered by a referring physician. A patient will speak to the radiologist or surgeon about their issues, and the physician will usually also conduct a physical exam. If they suspect that the issue can be identified by a magnetic resonance imaging scan, then they will refer the patient to have one.

Unlike x-rays, MRIs are able to identify more complex structures like soft tissues and abnorml matter. Whereas traditional x-rays are mainly used to see hard matter – like bones. Furthermore, unlike X-rays, an MRI doesn’t use radiation. Instead, it harnesses radiowaves from data that already exists in the body, meaning it won’t cause chemical change or damage to tissue.

An MRI scan of the abdominal area can help a doctor discover what the issue is and, consequently, assist them to make a diagnosis and to determine the best treatment plan.

How do abdominal MRI scans work?

An abdominal MRI is a scan that can show extremely detailed images of the area. It’s able to detect bones, as well as soft tissue like ligaments and tendons and abnormal matter. During an abdominal MRI, a narrow x-ray beam will rotate around a patient’s body and take many axial MRI images in quick succession.

Because these detailed images are taken so quickly together, and because there are multiple angles taken, it’s possible to render them together through the use of a computer program to create a 3-D image of the area. This precise reflection of the abdominal area allows a doctor to see very small ailments that they wouldn’t be able to. This helps them correctly and precisely diagnose a condition.

It’s fairly common for a doctor to use a contrast agent when taking an abdominal MRI scan. This is a medical dye that is usually administered intervaneosly or as a barium meal. The contrast agent highlights specific abdomen areas, allowing a doctor to see small areas more clearly.

Why might you need an abdominal MRI?

If a doctor suspects an issue within the abdomen that they don’t believe a traditional x-ray would detect, they will often suggest an MRI to confirm their suspicions. Below are some conditions an ankle MRI can detect:

  • Tumours of the abdomen or pelvis

  • Chrohn’s disease

  • Ulcerative colitis

  • Cirrhosis

  • Abnormalities of the bile ducts and pancreas

  • Tumours

  • Enlarged spleen or liver

  • Distended gallbladder

  • Gallstones,

  • Bile duct stones

  • Renal vein thrombosis

  • Renal arterial obstruction

If you are experiencing any of the following issues, you may be referred for an abdominal MRI scan:

  • Loss of appetite

  • Sudden weight loss

  • Lethargy

  • A fever that doesn’t improve over time

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Diarrhoea

  • Pain or discomfort in the abdomen

  • Yellowing of the skin

  • Swollen legs

  • As a check-up after abdomen surgery

How to prepare for your abdominal MRI scan?

MRI scans are non-invasive procedures so they don’t usually require much special preparation. However, it’s common for patients who are undertaking an abdominal MRI to be asked to refrain from eating to drinking for a certain period of time. If you’ve been issued an MRI of the abdomen, you should always check with your referring doctor about whether you are able to eat or drink before the scan.

For all MRIs, patients need to withdraw all metal objects from their bodies. This includes things like jewellery, a watch, hairpins and removable hearing aids. If you have a surgically implanted metal item, like a pacemaker or pins and plates from a broken bone, then you should tell the technician about this prior to the exam. The reason metal objects must be removed is that they can interfere with the photos, and they are also prone to heat up during the scan.

The MRI machine is a dark tube that can be noisy. So, if you suffer from claustrophobia, it’s a good idea to let your referring doctor know – or at the very least, the technician you consult with prior to the exam. If they feel it’s required, they may administer a sedative to help calm your nerves during the scan. If you are receiving a sedative, there may be specific rules surrounding whether you’re able to eat or drink prior to the appointment, too.

What To Expect from an MRI scan of your abdomen

During the scan

Once you arrive for your scan, you will usually check-in at the reception like a normal appointment. When the doctor or technician is ready for you, a nurse will take you through to the scanning room. Here, you will see a large tubular-shaped machine, which is the MRI machine.

A nurse will give you a hospital gown to change into and ask you to remove any metal objects if you haven’t already. After this, the technician or radiologist will ask you to lie on a thin medical bed. They will adjust your body so that it’s positioned correctly in order to capture the required images. You will also be fitted with earphones and a buzzer. These will allow you to communicate with the technician once you’re inside the machine (if required).

After this, you will be slid inside the machine slowly, and the scan will take place. It can be cramped, dark and loud inside the machine, so don’t be overwhelmed. It’s very important to stay completely still while the images are being captured, even the slightest movement can blur MRI images.

The scan itself should only take a few minutes, and the technician will check to make sure the images are clear before they bring you out of the machine. Once you’re out, you should be able to continue your day as normal.

The exception to this is if you have a sedative for the scan. If so, you may need some recovery time and will need someone to drive you home from the appointment.

After the scan

After the scan, you should feel completely normal and will be allowed to leave and continue about your day. In rare occurrences, patients can have an allergic reaction to the MRI. So, if you notice allergic reactions, like a rash or redness, you should let a doctor know immediately.

The length of time the results take will depend on both the condition and your doctor. Generally, they’re available within a week. However, if the suspected condition is urgent, a doctor will be able to share the results earlier. Once they are ready someone from the doctor’s office will contact you for a follow-up appointment to come in and discuss your results.

What are the benefits of abdominal magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)?

Abdominal MRIs are an advanced imaging technique that can identify many conditions that a traditional x-ray isn’t able to. Below are some reasons why abdominal scans are commonly used.

  • The preciseness of an MRI means that they can pick up very small abnormalities that may not otherwise be evident.

  • The results are quick, which can mean that treatment can be started quickly.

  • MRIs are non-invasive and don’t involve any radiation, meaning they are a very safe procedure.

  • They can identify issues with soft tissues within the shoulder, which traditional x-rays can’t.


Why would a doctor order an MRI for your abdomen?

Patients are referred for MRIs, so they will have to meet with a surgeon or doctor prior to the scan. During this consultation or exam, the physician will discuss your symptoms and if they suspect an issue that can be detected by an MRI, they will refer you for one. There are a large number of conditions that can be detected on an MRI, as listed above.

How long does an abdominal MRI take?

The scan itself should only take bout 5-10 minutes. However, patients should allocate about 60-90 minutes in total for the scan. This extra time allows for waiting, a consultation and preparation time.

What does an abdominal MRI show?

An abdominal scan shows bones, ligaments, tendons, soft tissues, blood vessels and organs. This type of scan is much more detailed than a traditional x-ray. Because it takes a number of images in quick succession, they can be joined together to create a 3D render. The detail of this render helps a technician precisely diagnose conditions that wouldn’t be visible on other scans.

Is an abdominal MRI uncomfortable?

A patient shouldn’t feel anything (except a small amount of heat) from the MRI itself. However, they may experience minor discomfort from the way their body is positioned for the scan and/or the dark and noisy experience of lying inside the MRI machine itself. If you experience any discomfort at all, you should always let your technician know.

Does your head go in for an abdominal MRI?

Sometimes. If you’re entering the machine head first, then your head will be inside the MRI machine. Sometimes, patients are able to enter an MRI machine feet first, and in this case, they may be able to keep their head outside of the MRI machine.

Can I drink water before an abdominal MRI?

Generally, patients are asked to not eat or drink for a specific period of time prior to their abdominal MRI scan. However, this changes from case to case and you should always check with your referring doctor about whether you’re able to eat or drink before your scan.

Will a doctor automatically recommend an MRI if I have abdominal pain?

No. A doctor will speak to you about your symptoms and conduct a physical exam. If they believe you have a condition that can be diagnosed through an MRI, they will refer you for a scan.