Overview: The Basics
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a noninvasive imaging test that uses magnetic fields, radio waves and a computer to produce detailed pictures of internal body structures. Images from an MRI allow physicians to examine parts of the body to determine the presence of certain diseases.
What to Expect: During the Screening
Most individuals find MRI exams to be completely painless. The only complaint that some patients express are feelings of claustrophobia due to being in an enclosed space. If you think that this will be an issue prior to your MRI, please speak with your physician to arrange for sedation.
You will lie on a movable table that slides into the opening of the MRI machine. You will be in the room by yourself, but you can speak with the radiology technologist by microphone.
Like other imaging tests, it is important that you remain perfectly still while the images are being obtained. You will hear and feel loud tapping or thumping sounds when the images are being taken by the MRI machine. You will have time to relax between images, but you will be required to remain as still as possible. When an area of your body is being imaged it is normal for the site to feel slightly warm.
What can be found?
MRIs can be used for issues throughout the body, but a gastroenterologist typically orders the test to diagnose or evaluate:
- organs of the abdomen—including the liver, biliary tract, bowel and pancreas.
- diseases of the liver, such as cirrhosis, and abnormalities of the bile ducts and pancreas
- inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis
What happens afterwards?
If sedation isn’t required, you can return to your normal activities and diets. When a contrast material is used, you will be instructed to drink water to help flush it out of your system.
A radiologist, a physician specifically trained to supervise and interpret radiology examinations, will analyze the images and send a signed report to your primary care or referring physician, who will share the results with you.
How to Prepare
There is little preparation needed for an MRI. You may be asked to change into a gown. You are typically told to keep taking medications. There are few dietary restrictions. You will be asked to remove anything metallic prior to entering the room. It is rare but certain dyes used in tattoos may contain iron and could heat up during an MRI. Tooth fillings and braces are not a problem, but the radiologist should be made aware of them.