An abdominal magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan is an imaging test that uses powerful magnets and radio waves to create pictures of the inside of the belly area. It does not use radiation (x-rays).
Single MRI images are called slices. The images can be stored on a computer or printed on film. One exam produces dozens or sometimes hundreds of images.
Nuclear magnetic resonance - abdomen; NMR - abdomen; Magnetic resonance imaging - abdomen; MRI of the abdomen
How the Test is Performed
You may be asked to wear a hospital gown or clothing without metal zippers or snaps (such as sweatpants and a t-shirt). Certain types of metal can cause blurry images.
You will lie on a narrow table. The table slides into a large tunnel-shaped scanner.
Some exams require a special dye (contrast). Most of the time, the dye is given before the test through a vein (IV) in your hand or forearm. The dye helps the radiologist see certain areas more clearly.
During the MRI, the person who operates the machine will watch you from another room. The test lasts about 30 to 60 minutes, but it may take longer.
How to Prepare for the Test
You may be asked not to eat or drink anything for 4 to 6 hours before the scan.
Tell your doctor if you are afraid of close spaces (have claustrophobia). You may be given a medicine to help you feel sleepy and less anxious. Your health care provider may also suggest an open MRI, in which the machine is not as close to your body.
Before the test, tell your provider if you have:
Artificial heart valves
Brain aneurysm clips
Heart defibrillator or pacemaker
Inner ear (cochlear) implants
Kidney disease or dialysis (you may not be able to receive contrast)
MRI does not use ionizing radiation. No side effects from the magnetic fields and radio waves have been reported.
The most common type of contrast (dye) used is gadolinium. It is very safe. Allergic reactions rarely occur. However, gadolinium can be harmful to people with kidney problems who need dialysis. Tell your provider before the test if you have kidney problems.
The strong magnetic fields created during an MRI can cause heart pacemakers and other implants not to work as well. The magnets can also cause a piece of metal inside your body to move or shift.
Wilkinson ID, Graves MJ. Magnetic resonance imaging. In: Adam A, Dixon AK, Gillard JH, et al. eds. Grainger & Allison's Diagnostic Radiology: A Textbook of Medical Imaging. 6th ed. New York, NY: Churchill Livingstone; 2014:chap 5.
Jason Levy, MD, Northside Radiology Associates, Atlanta, GA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.