Radiology In Plain English radiology reports explained

What’s an Abdominal MRI For?

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Abdominal MRI is a test used to evaluate the abdomen in detail.  The test uses no radiation unlike CT scans.  It is a longer test than CT and may take up to an hour depending on the type of scan.  Abdominal MRIs are often ordered for specific questions or problems.  It is less commonly done for general conditions like abdominal pain.

What is an Abdominal MRI for?

Abdominal MRI is usually done for specific reasons.  This is unlike CT which is also done for general conditions like abdominal pain, bloating, vomiting, etc.  Abdominal MRI may follow an ultrasound or CT scan of the abdomen to further evaluate an abnormality.  Abdominal MRI is done on patients who get multiple serial tests to reduce radiation exposure.  Patients with cancer can get MRI instead of CT to monitor for recurrence.

Abdominal MRI for Liver

Abdominal MRI is often used for liver lesions found on other tests.  US and CT may show liver lesions or spots but we can’t say what they are exactly.  An MRI is often recommended.  Abdominal MRIs are excellent at saying what a liver lesions is.  Unlike CT of the abdomen where only one scan is done, MRI uses multiple scans through the abdomen and liver using different techniques. We also observe the lesion over time after dye is given through a vein. This allows us to better say what a liver lesion is.

Abdominal MRI for kidneys

Abdominal MRI is also used for kidney lesions of masses found on other tests.  This is done for abnormalities which can not be clearly diagnosed on CT scan.  Again, CT most commonly has one scan through the abdomen and kidneys.  MRI has multiple scans through the kidneys before and after dye is given through the vein.  We can say more confidently whether a kidney cyst or lesion is something that is suspicious for cancer or not.

MRI of the abdomen for adrenal glands

Abdominal MRI is often done for masses of the adrenal glands.  Adrenal glands sit on top of the kidneys and secrete various hormones.    Adrenal glands can develop benign and cancerous masses.  These are often discovered on CT.  Often times we can’t tell what they are so an abdominal MRI is recommended.

Adrenal nodules and masses can better be characterized on MRI since we have multiple types of scans through the adrenals.   A particularly powerful scan on the MRI is one which detects fat inside the masses.  This will tell us the mass is a benign adenoma instead of a more aggressive or cancerous mass.

MRI of the abdomen for pancreas

Abdominal MRI is also done to further evaluate pancreatic abnormalities on US and CT.  It is done to follow cystic lesions of the pancreas to see whether they grow or change.  MRI of the abdomen is excellent at telling us whether a pancreatic lesion needs follow up or an intervention such as sampling or biopsy.  MRI is also good at telling us if there are any other abnormalities which are suspicious for cancer like spread to the liver or dilated bile and pancreatic ducts.

MRI of the abdomen for cancer recurrence

MRI of the abdomen is also good at following patients with cancer for recurrence.  Many patients with cancer get repeated scans to look for disease recurrence.  These patients would have multiple CT scans and repeated radiation exposure.  MRI is an option without radiation exposure.

MRI of the abdomen allows a detailed evaluation and can often make diagnosis that other tests can not.  The test is commonly ordered after an abnormal but unclear finding on ultrasound and CT.   It is still possible that an abdominal MRI will not come to a diagnosis.  In that case, the radiologist may recommend follow up or invasive testing such as biopsy.

Disclaimer: The content of this website is provided for general informational purposes only and is not intended as, nor should it be considered a substitute for, professional medical advice. Do not use the information on this website for diagnosing or treating any medical or health condition. If you have or suspect you have a medical problem, promptly contact your professional healthcare provider.

About the author

A. Mendelson, MD
Radiology In Plain English radiology reports explained