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Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Abdomen and Pelvis

What is an MRI?

A magnetic resonance imaging scan is also called an MRI. An MRI uses magnetic fields and radio waves to take pictures of the inside of your body. An MRI of the abdomen and pelvis is done to take pictures of the organs in your abdomen (stomach and torso area) and pelvis (area between and including your hips). An MRI is useful because it shows caregivers what tissue is normal, and what tissue is not.

What body areas are seen during an MRI of the abdomen and pelvis?

Body organs that can be seen during an MRI of the abdomen and pelvis include:

  • Stomach, intestines (bowels), liver, gallbladder, pancreas, and spleen. These organs help break down the food you eat and get rid of waste through bowel movements.
  • Kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra (urinary tract). These organs make urine and allow you to urinate.
  • Reproductive organs. In men, these organs include the testicles, prostate gland, penis, and scrotum. In women, these organs include the ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus (womb), cervix, and vagina.

Why do I need an MRI of the abdomen and pelvis?

If you have signs or symptoms, including abdominal or pelvic pain, or jaundice (yellowing of the whites of the eyes), you may need to have an MRI. Other symptoms may include having a fever (high body temperature), or losing weight without trying to. Symptoms may also include high blood pressure, blood in the urine, and swelling in the abdomen. Women who have painful monthly periods or heavy bleeding may need an MRI. An MRI can show caregivers what may be causing your signs or symptoms. The following are other reasons why an MRI of the abdomen and pelvis may be needed:

  • Checking for cancer or another illness: An MRI may be done to check for cancer, such as liver cancer. The MRI may show tissue that has cancer cells, and tissue that does not have cancer cells.
  • Guiding a procedure or surgery: An MRI can be used to guide caregivers during a procedure, such as a biopsy. A biopsy is done to collect a sample of tissue from a body area. An MRI may be used if surgery is needed to remove a growth or lump.
  • Treatment planning: If you are being treated for a disease, an MRI can show caregivers how well your treatment is working. An MRI can help caregivers learn if a disease has returned after treatment. The results of the MRI can help you and your caregiver plan the best treatment for you.

What problems may be uncovered by an MRI of the abdomen and pelvis?

An MRI may be done to diagnose (find) any of the following:

  • Tumors or lumps: An MRI may find growths or lumps in organs such as your stomach, bladder, and pancreas. An MRI can find a growth on an ovary, or in the uterus (fibroid) in women. An MRI can be used to find a growth on the prostate gland in men.
  • Disease: An MRI can show if you have a disease, such as kidney or liver disease. If you have cancer, an MRI may show if it has spread to other parts of your body.
  • Infection: An MRI may show if you have an infection of the appendix or another body organ. In women, an MRI may be used to diagnose pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).
  • Stones in the gallbladder or kidney: An MRI may show if one or more stones have grown in your gallbladder (cholelithiasis) or kidney (renal calculus).
  • Blood vessel problems: An MRI can show if a blood vessel is too narrow or wide, or if it is blocked or damaged.
  • Decreased muscle strength: After pelvic surgery, some women have trouble urinating or having bowel movements. An MRI may be done to find problems such as weak pelvic floor muscles, or pelvic organ prolapse.
  • Birth defects: An MRI may show problems that developed before or at birth, such as having one kidney instead of two.

Why may I be unable to have an MRI of the abdomen and pelvis?

Before having an MRI, tell caregivers if any of the following are true for you:

  • You have a medical device in your body that contains metal: These devices include pacemakers, defibrillators, aneurysm clips, heart valves, shunts, and certain stents. Cochlear (inner ear) implants and intrauterine devices (IUD) may also contain metal.
  • You have metal in your body: This includes an insulin pump, or a prosthetic (man-made) body part. It also includes screws or plates that may have been placed during surgery. Medicine patches used to treat a heart condition or for birth control may contain metal. Tattoos or permanent cosmetics, such as eye liner, may also contain metal. These items increase the risk of burns and injuries during the MRI. Tell caregivers if you have any of these in or on your body. Tell caregivers if you have done welding, or have worked with or around metal in the past. Tell caregivers if you have had a metal object stuck in your eye in the past. Having worked with or been injured by metal increases your risk of having very small pieces of metal in your body.
  • You are pregnant: Tell your caregiver if you know or think that you might be pregnant. If you are pregnant, ask your caregiver if dye (contrast liquid) will be used during your MRI. Some dyes are harmful to an unborn baby.
  • You are allergic to iodine or dye: Dye may be used during an MRI. If you know that you are allergic to iodine (found in shellfish, such as shrimp) or dye, tell your caregiver.
  • You have claustrophobia: Claustrophobia is a fear of small, closed spaces. If you have this fear, your caregiver may offer you medicine to help you relax or sleep during the MRI. Ask your caregiver if you can have a friend or family member in the room with you during the MRI. Ask your caregiver what else can be done so that you can have an MRI.
  • You have trouble lying flat or still: You may have a medical condition that makes it hard to lie flat or without moving. If you cannot lie flat, or you have trouble lying still, tell your caregiver.

What will happen during an MRI of the abdomen and pelvis?

  • You will be asked to remove jewelry, earrings, and all removable metal objects. If you have a medical device, it may need to be turned off before your MRI. You will lie down on a table with your arms at your sides or over your head. Your caregiver may put padding and cushions around and under you. You may be given earplugs or headphones to decrease the noise of the MRI machine. The table will slide into the round tube in the center of the machine. You will hear loud banging, tapping, or chirping noises as the machine takes pictures. The noise is caused by the magnets in the machine moving during the test. Caregivers may tell you to hold your breath at times during the test.
    Picture of a Magnetic Resonance Imaging closed machine
  • You will need to lie very still during the test so the pictures are clear. If you suddenly feel odd, or feel a warm or hot area on your body during the MRI, tell caregivers immediately. You may need dye to help body areas show up better in the pictures. The dye is given to you through an intravenous (IV) tube placed in one of your veins. Other procedures, such as taking a biopsy (sample) of tissue, may be done during the MRI. Ask your caregiver for more information if you need another procedure done during your MRI.

What are the risks of having an MRI?

  • If dye is used during your MRI, it may damage your kidneys. This risk is higher if you have diabetes or kidney disease. If you have metal in or on your body during the MRI, the metal may heat to a dangerous level and cause burns. If you recently had surgery to place a coil, stent, or filter in your body, it may move out of place during the MRI. An MRI can cause medical devices to work wrong, or stop working. You may have short-term hearing loss after an MRI. An MRI may not show certain medical problems, or it may show a problem that is not really there.
  • If you choose not to have an MRI, a medical problem may not be found. If the problem is not found and treated, it may get worse. Without an MRI, a disease may not be found in the early stages, when it may be treated more easily. If you have symptoms, such as pain or bleeding, your symptoms may get worse. If you have a lump, it may grow bigger. Having an MRI before or during surgery helps caregivers plan for and complete the surgery. Without an MRI, you may not know if a treatment that you are getting is working. Your condition may get worse, and you may die. Talk to your caregiver if you are worried or have questions about having an MRI of the abdomen and pelvis.

When should I call my caregiver?

Call your caregiver if:

  • You cannot make it to your MRI.
  • You think you may be pregnant.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment.

Learn more about Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Abdomen and Pelvis

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.