Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Abdomen

Abdominal magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses a powerful magnetic field combined with radiofrequency waves to create highly detailed, cross-sectional images of tissues and organs in the abdomen; these scans are examined for abnormalities.

Abdominal MRI is most often performed to visualize the liver, but may also be used to examine other soft tissues, such as the lymph nodes, kidneys, biliary tract, pancreas, or other organs. This imaging procedure is particularly useful when the area to be scanned is blocked by overlying bone or foreign bodies, or when differentiation of soft tissues on the images is required.

Purpose of the Abdominal MRI

  • To detect and evaluate a variety of abnormalities in abdominal organs such as enlargement, cysts, and tumors.
  • To clarify findings from previous abdominal x-rays or CT scans.
  • To evaluate blood flow in abdominal blood vessels.

Who Performs Abdominal MRI Scan

  • A radiologist or a qualified technician

Special Concerns about Abdominal MRI Scan

  • People who experience claustrophobia may find it difficult to undergo an MRI, which takes place in a narrow, tunnel-like structure. In some cases, an open MRI—a larger unit that is open on several sides—may be used as an alternative.
  • This test may not be possible for severely overweight individuals (over 300 lbs). Some open MRI scanners can accommodate larger patients.
  • Because the MRI generates a strong magnetic field, it cannot be performed on people who have certain types of internally placed metallic devices, including pacemakers, inner ear implants, or intracranial aneurysm clips.
  • The test should not be done in pregnant women because the long-term effects of MRI on the fetus are unknown.

Before Abdominal MRI

  • Tell your doctor if you suffer from claustrophobia. He or she may administer a sedative to help you tolerate the procedure.
  • You may be asked not to eat or drink anything for 4-6 hours before the scan.
  • Before evaluation of some abdominal organs, you may need to clear the colon with a laxative or cleansing enema.
  • In some cases, medications may be given to reduce the motion of the intestines (peristalsis), which may blur the MRI images.
  • You will be instructed to empty your bladder before the test.
  • Remove any magnetic cards or metallic objects, including watches, hair clips, belts, credit cards, and jewelry.
  • You may be asked to disrobe and put on a hospital gown.

What You Experience

  • You will lie down on a narrow padded bed that slides into a large, enclosed cylinder containing the MRI magnets.
  • You must remain still throughout the procedure because any motion can distort the scan.
  • There is a microphone inside the imaging machine, and you may talk to the technician performing the scan at any time during the procedure.
  • You will hear loud thumping sounds as the scanning is performed. To block out the noise, you can request earplugs or listen to music on earphones.
  • The procedure time ranges from 30 to 90 minutes.

Risks and Complications of Abdominal MRI Scan

  • MRI does not involve exposure to ionizing radiation and is not associated with any risks or complications.

After Abdominal MRI

  • Most patients can go home right after the scan and resume their usual activities.
  • Sedated patients may be monitored for a short period until the effects of the sedative have worn off.

Abdominal MRI Scan Results

  • The MRI scans are displayed on a video monitor and then recorded on film. A physician will examine the images for any evidence of abnormalities.
  • If a definitive diagnosis can be made based on the MRI images, your doctor will recommend appropriate treatment, depending on the specific problem.
  • In some cases, additional tests, such as a liver biopsy, liver or kidney function tests, or abdominal ultrasound, may be required to establish a diagnosis or determine the extent of a problem.


The Johns Hopkins Consumer Guide to Medical Tests

Simeon Margolis, M.D., Ph.D., Medical Editor

Updated by Remedy Health Media

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at

Published: 03 Jan 2012

Last Modified: 19 Mar 2015