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Liver MRI Scan

A Liver MRI Scan is a procedure that produces detailed images of a patient’s liver. It’s used to identify a large number of conditions, however, some of the most common include hepatitis, hemochromatosis, and fatty liver disease.

MRI – or magnetic resonance imaging – scans produce much more detailed images than a traditional x-ray. X-rays are used to see dense body parts like bones, whereas an MRI can show soft matter too, like cartilage, tendons, ligaments, muscles, and even blood vessels.

The liver is a complex organ that is made up of blood vessels, lobules and other soft tissue structures, so MRIs are an effective procedure for doctors to use to detect and diagnose conditions and problems.

A doctor or physician will almost always need to refer a patient for a Liver MRI. Usually the patient will speak with a doctor or surgeon about their condition. The physician may conduct some kind of exam (like blood tests or a physical exam) and if they believe a Liver MRI will help detect the issue then they will refer the patient.

Getting a liver MRI is a relatively quick process. The scan itself should only have 10-15 minutes. However, patients should allow more time for the preparation and consultation that will take place before and after the scan.

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

How do liver MRI scans work?

Put simply, MRI scans use powerful magnets that produce a strong magnetic field that encourage the body’s own magnetic properties to align. From here, a small camera circulates the body and takes a large number of photos in quick succession.

Through the use of software, these images can be rendered together to create a 3D image. This precise reflection of the organ allows doctors to detect even minuscule abnormalities.

Sometimes, a radiologist will use a contrast agent to help make the internal structures stand out more, which assists with diagnosis. While contrast agents can be used for more types of MRIs, they’re very common with Liver MRIs. A contrast dye is usually administered as a barium meal or intravenously.

A doctor or radiologist will then study these detailed images to help them diagnose the condition that’s causing pain or discomfort.

Why might you need a liver MRI?

If a doctor suspects an issue within your liver that they don’t believe a traditional x-ray would detect, they will often suggest a magnetic resonance imaging scan to confirm their suspicions. Below are some conditions a MRI liver scan can detect:

  • Hepatocellular Carcinoma

  • Primary liver cancer

  • Focal liver lesions

  • Chronic hepatitis

  • Chronic hepatitis b

  • Liver disease

  • Liver metastases

  • Hemochromatosis

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

  • Abdominal pain

  • Abdominal swelling

  • Visiblynlarged blood vessels just beneath the skin’s surface.

  • Enlarged spleen.

  • Dark urine

  • Abnormal coloured stools

  • Fever and fatigue for an extended period of time

  • A constant feeling of fullness

How to prepare for your liver MRI scan?

For most MRIs, there isn’t any special preparation required and patients can eat and drink as they please prior to their appointment. However, this is slightly different for a liver MRI. Because the liver is connected to the esophagus, many doctors will ask patients not to eat or drink anything for at least four hours before their appointment. Keep in mind, that these requirements can change between doctors, so it’s a good idea to check with your referring physician surrounding what is required.

All MRI scans require patients to remove metal objects from their bodies. This includes things like jewellery, hair pins and piercings. To help speed up the scan process, it’s a good idea to do this before you leave home. If you have an implanted metal medical device, like a pacemaker or pins and screws from a broken bone, you should let your technician know before the scan begins.

What To Expect from an MRI scan of your liver

During the scan

When you arrive for a liver MRI, you will probably be required to check in with reception like a normal appointment. Once the radiologist or technician is ready for you, you’ll be taken into the MRI room where you will see a large tubular machine – this is the MRI machine.

Here, you’ll be given a hospital gown to change into. Once dressed, you’ll be asked to lay on a thin metal table. A technician will likely adjust your body so that it’s angled correctly in order to capture the image required. You’ll also be fitted with ear plugs and a buzzer, these will allow you to talk to the technician while you’re inside the machine (if required) and will also help cut out the loud noise that’s generated during the scan.

MRI machines are narrow and dark, so if you suffer from claustrophobia, you should tell your technician. They may decide to administer a sedative to help.

After this, you’ll slowly slide inside the machine and the scan will begin. While inside, it’s important to hold extremely still, as even the slightest movement can blur the image.

The technician will check to make sure the images are clear, and if they will slide you back out of the machine and you should be able to continue your day as normal.

After the scan

A MRI scan is a non-invasive procedure so, in most cases, you’ll feel completely normal afterwards. However, if you were administered a sedative to help with claustrophobia, then you must get someone to drive you home, and you’ll probably need some recovery time.

In very rare cases, patients can develop allergic reactions to MRIs. So, if you see any allergy-related symptoms, like a rash or hives, then it’s important to let a doctor know immediately.

Results from a liver MRI usually takes about one week. This gives your physician time to study the images and identify your condition. In some cases, if the condition is serious and needs immediate treatment, your results may be ready sooner.

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

Liver 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 liver MRIs are commonly used.

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

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

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

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


Why would a doctor order an MRI for your liver?

There are a variety of reasons that a doctor would order a liver MRI. Some common conditions include hepatitis, hemochromatosis, and fatty liver disease. You can check out the full list above of conditions that can be identified by a liver MRI.

How long does a liver MRI take?

The scan itself is relatively quick – it should only take about 15 minutes. However, patients should allow approximately an hour for the entire appointment – this includes consultation and preparation time.

What does a liver MRI show?

A liver MRI shows detailed 3-d images of the abdominal area; it clearly shows organs, soft liver tissue and skeletal structure as well as abnormal matter, like tumours.

Is a liver MRI uncomfortable?

An MRI is a non-invasive process, so a patient shouldn’t feel any pain or discomfort. However, in order to capture an image correctly, the patient may need to be positioned in a way that could cause minor discomfort. If any pain or discomfort is felt, the technician should be made aware of it.

Does your head go in for a liver 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 foot first, and in this case, they may be able to keep their heads outside of the MRI machine.

Can I drink water before a liver MRI?

This depends on your referring physician’s requirements. In many cases, patients are required to not eat or drink for at least four hours before their appointment. It’s important to always check in with your doctor about what is required.

Will a doctor automatically recommend an MRI if I have liver issues?

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