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WHY WOULD I NEED AN ABDOMINAL MRI?

From heartburn and indigestion to bloating and constipation, many people experience gastrointestinal symptoms at least once in their lifetime. Most of the time these symptoms are minor and go away on their own or with simple treatments.

There are some instances however, where abdominal symptoms need further investigation. For example, if you are experiencing unexplained abdominal pain that is persistent or severe, you should speak to your health care practitioner. This is especially true if your pain is accompanied by any of the following symptoms:

  • Persistent fever.
  • Persistent nausea or vomiting.
  • Blood in your stool, urine, or vomit.
  • Swelling and tenderness to the touch.
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin).
  • Pain in any other part of your body.
  • Shortness of breath or symptoms that get worse with exertion.

To investigate their cause, your doctor will need to discuss all your symptoms. They will ask you where your pain is, what your pain feels like, how often you feel it, and how severe it is. Your abdomen is home to your stomach, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, and large and small intestines, so the location of your pain may indicate which organs are affected.

Your answers will help your doctor determine if your symptoms are temporary and not serious, or if they need to order blood or medical imaging tests to gather more information about what is causing your symptoms. For example, your health care practitioner might order an ultrasound or computed tomography (CT) scan of your abdomen. Abdominal magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may also be ordered.

WHAT CAN MRI HELP DIAGNOSE?

MRI uses a strong magnetic field and radiofrequency waves to provide very clear images of the body and is often ordered to clarify findings from earlier ultrasound or CT exams.

Abdominal MRI provides detailed pictures of the abdominal and pelvic areas from many views and can help check for gallstones or biliary duct stones, liver disease, tumours, and infection. It can evaluate:

  • Blood flow and blood vessels in the abdomen.
  • The liver, pancreas, and kidneys.
  • The cause of abdominal pain or swelling.
  • The lymph nodes in the abdomen.

MRI exams are non-invasive and don’t use radiation. This type of imaging is very good at distinguishing abnormal from normal tissues. This can help your doctor better determine a tumour’s size, severity, and spread.

HOW DO I GET AN ABDOMINAL MRI?

Magnetic resonance imaging helps health care practitioners make a diagnosis and inform care decisions. Once your doctor has identified the need for this exam, your doctor’s office may book an appointment for you, or provide you with a number to call to book your appointment.

In Alberta, MRI exams are available in hospitals and covered under the Alberta Health Care Insurance Plan, but we also offer the same studies as private pay exams, for when patients may be unable to wait to receive an exam through the public health system.

An MRI’s magnetic field strength is measured in teslas (T). At our Mayfair Place location in Calgary, we offer both 1.5T and 3T MRI services. Having two magnet strengths provides greater options to use MRI to more specifically meet the imaging needs of various medical conditions.

In Saskatchewan, we offer MRIs as a publicly funded, community-based service under contract with the Saskatchewan Health Authority and as a private pay exam. Private MRI services in Saskatchewan are provided in accordance with and under the legislation of the Province of Saskatchewan at our Regina and Saskatoon locations.

Whether public or private, an MRI must be requested by a health care practitioner who will provide a requisition. Mayfair Diagnostics will schedule your exam and provide you with detailed information to prepare for it.

WHAT HAPPENS DURING AN ABDOMINAL MRI?

For an abdominal MRI, you will be asked to fast and have nothing to eat or drink (except water) for four hours prior to your exam. You will also be asked to wear comfortable clothes free of metal zippers or buttons, including metal-free underwear. It generally takes between 30-60 minutes to complete this exam.

Once in the exam room you may be asked to change into a gown or scrubs. If a contrast solution is needed, we will insert an intravenous (IV) line. (Please note that IV contrast is an additional cost of $250.) Once the IV is in place your technologist will position you on the cushioned scanner table in the MRI suite. We will do our best to make you comfortable.

An MRI can be loud, so you will be provided with headphones or ear plugs to reduce the noise. Eye masks are also available upon request for patients who have difficulty relaxing in a confined space. You will be given an emergency call bell to stop the exam, if needed. Once you are relaxed and comfortable, a sensor will be positioned around the body part being scanned. The table will then move slowly into the MRI scanner, which is well lit and ventilated.

You will be asked to hold very still, as movement may result in blurring of images. Your technologist will be close by at all times. You may be asked to hold your breath for some of the images. Breath holds can last between 5-25 seconds. Once we have successfully captured your images, your IV will be removed (if you have one) and you are free to leave.

ARE THESE EXAMS SAFE?

MRI images are created using a magnetic field, which can attract metal objects or may cause metal in your body to move. This means that before an MRI can be performed all patients will need to be screened to exclude internal metal objects or hardware that are not safe in the MRI. The inside of the MRI scanner can feel small to some people and there are noises caused by changes in the magnetic field, which require ear protection.

When using MRI contrast, an injectable gadolinium dye, there is a small risk of allergic reaction. However, you will be asked about your allergies and other medical conditions when booking your exam.

WHAT HAPPENS AFTER MY EXAM?

Your images will be reviewed by a specialized radiologist who will compile a report that is sent to your doctor within 24 hours, sooner for urgent requests. Mayfair Diagnostics is owned and operated by over 50 radiologists who are sub-specialty trained, which guarantees an expert opinion of your imaging.

Your images will be uploaded to a provincial picture archiving and communication system (PACS) – this technology provides electronic storage and convenient access to your medical images from multiple sources, such as your doctor, specialists, hospitals, and walk-in clinics.

Your doctor will review your images and the report from the radiologist and discuss next steps with you, such as a treatment plan or the need for further diagnostic imaging or lab tests to ensure an accurate diagnosis.

Mayfair Diagnostics offers MRI imaging as a private pay service at our Mayfair Place location in Calgary, and as both public and private pay exams at our Regina and Saskatoon locations in Saskatchewan. For more information, please visit our services page or call our toll-free number 1-866-611-2665.


REFERENCES

American College of Gastroenterology (2022) “Common GI Symptoms.” www.gi.org. Accessed July 22, 2022.

Cleveland Clinic (2022) “Abdominal Pain.” www.my.clevelandclinic.org. Accessed July 22, 2022.

Healthwise Staff (2020) “MRI of the Abdomen: About This Test.” www.myhealth.alberta.ca. Accessed July 14, 2022.

LeBedis, C. A., et al (2012) “Current applications of MRI in emergent gastrointestinal diseases.” www.appliedradiology.com. Accessed July 22, 2022.

Miller, B. J. (2021) “What Is Abdominal Pain? Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention” www.everydayhealth.com. Accessed July 22, 2022.

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