Overview: The Basics
Magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP) is a special type of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) exam that produces detailed images of the hepatobiliary and pancreatic systems, including the liver, gallbladder, bile ducts, pancreas and pancreatic duct.
MRCP provides a less invasive alternative to endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP). However, MRCP does not allow any intervention to be performed, such as stone extraction, stent insertion, or biopsy.
What to Expect: During the procedure
Usually no contrast medium has to be administered for MRCP. Since MRCP is a type of MRI exam, it is typically painless. Any complaints about the procedure are about feeling claustrophobic. If you think that this will be an issue prior to your MRI, please speak with your physician to arrange for sedation.
MRCP involves lying very still in an MRI scanner for several minutes at a time. Like an MRI, you do not feel anything while the scan takes place, although you will hear when the machine taking images. You will usually be alone in the exam room during the MRI procedure. However, the technologist will be able to see, hear and speak with you at all times using a two-way intercom. The entire MRCP test takes less than 20 minutes. However, it can be done in conjunction with a standard MRI of the abdomen which may make the entire exam closer to 45 minutes.
What can be found?
Physicians use MRCP to:
- examine diseases of the liver, gallbladder, bile ducts, pancreas and pancreatic duct. These may include tumors, stones, inflammation or infection.
- evaluate patients with pancreatitis to detect the underlying cause.
- help to diagnose unexplained abdominal pain.
What happens afterwards?
A radiologist, a physician specifically trained to supervise and interpret radiology examinations, will analyze the images and send a signed report to your primary care or referring physician, who will share the results with you.
How to Prepare
There is little preparation needed for an MRCP. You may be asked to change into a gown. You are typically told to keep taking medications. There are few dietary restrictions. You will be asked to remove anything metallic prior to entering the room. It is rare but certain dyes used in tattoos may contain iron and could heat up as with an MRI. Tooth fillings and braces are not a problem, but the radiologist should be made aware of them.