Abdominal MRI Scan

A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI scan) of the abdomen is a diagnostic test that produces detailed images of any area within the abdominal cavity. The MRI uses strong magnets and radio waves to create these images, not X-rays. A single MRI produces dozens, or even hundreds, of images, known as slices, that can be stored on a computer or printed out on film. This test is multifunctional and can be used to detect or locate a number of conditions.

Reasons for an Abdominal MRI Scan

An abdominal MRI scan may be performed to discover or evaluate:

  • Organ functioning
  • Blood flow and blood vessel integrity
  • Growths or tumors
  • Cause of swelling or pain
  • Cause of abnormal blood test results
  • Lymph nodes
  • Anatomical abnormality
  • Evidence of previous trauma

The test can also be performed to aid in the planning of surgery, to check on the effectiveness of a surgical procedure, or to assess proper healing after an operation or injury.

The Benefits of an Abdominal MRI Scan

The abdominal MRI procedure is an effective diagnostic tool that does not expose the patient to radiation. The radio waves used in an MRI scan are able to detect variations in water concentrations in various tissues. An MRI is the only procedure to produce images of both hard and soft tissue within the body.

In addition to avoiding the danger of radiation exposure, the MRI also skirts the dangers of angiography. Because MRI images can distinguish tumors from normal tissue, this test can provide information about the size, severity, and spread of a malignancy, a process known as staging.

Preparation for an Abdominal MRI Scan

In some cases, the patient may be instructed to fast for 4 to 6 hours prior to the MRI scan; in others, the patient may have to go through a preparatory bowel cleansing. Because patients are rolled into a confined tunnel-like machine during the procedure, they should inform their doctors if they suffer from claustrophobia or nervousness so that anti-anxiety medication or light sedation can be administered. There are also facilities that offer open MRIs for those who are too disturbed by the idea of such enclosure to undergo the usual MRI scan.

Since the MRI device makes use of powerful magnets, metal objects are not allowed into the room where the procedure takes place. Such objects may create danger by flying about the room, may be damaged by the magnets, or may distort the images the scan produces. Objects that are forbidden include:

  • Jewelry
  • Hearing aids
  • Removable dental work
  • Metal zippers
  • Pins, pens, pocket knives
  • Eyeglasses with wire frames
  • Credit cards

It is also necessary for patients about to undergo an abdominal MRI scan to inform their doctors if they have any of the following devices which may interfere with the test:

  • Artificial heart valves
  • Brain aneurysm clips
  • Heart pacemaker or defibrillator
  • Cochlear implants
  • Artificial joints
  • Vascular stents

While these devices may not preclude the possibility of an MRI scan in all cases, it is important that the physician be aware and in a position to evaluate possible risks. Patients who suffer from kidney disease or are on dialysis may not be able to receive contrast dye during the MRI scan.

The Abdominal MRI Scan Procedure

This test is not painful, but for patients who are nervous or have trouble lying still, sedative medication is advised, since movement may blur the resulting images. While the test occurs, the machine makes loud banging and thumping noises. Patients are usually provided with ear plugs or headsets to keep this noise from disturbing them too much. The patient is connected by intercom to an attendant during the whole procedure which takes between 30 and 60 minutes. If contrast dye is required for more delineated images, it is administered intravenously just before the scan begins.

During the procedure, the images produced are stored on a computer to be later reviewed by a radiologist. Once the scan is over, patients can resume normal activities unless they have been sedated, in which case they will have to rest for a period of time and may need to be provided with transportation home.

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