Many organs that keep your body alive and functioning reside in your abdomen and pelvis. The liver, gastrointestinal tract, and reproductive organs — just to name a few — are all located in or around the stomach area.
It’s crucial that all abdominal and pelvic organs and soft tissue areas are healthy. An MRI of the abdomen and pelvis screens for potential abnormalities, enabling patients to make effective and timely treatment decisions if any are found.
What Is an Abdominal and Pelvic MRI?
Abdominal and pelvic Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) utilizes powerful magnets and radio waves to produce images of the area in the lower half of the torso.
The pelvic area refers to the part of the body between the hip bones, including organs such as the bladder, male and female reproductive organs, and the lower parts of the gastrointestinal tract.
The abdominal region refers to the stomach area, encompassing the diaphragm and the digestive tract, as well as the gallbladder, liver, and pancreas.
An MRI of the Abdomen and Pelvis is performed to help evaluate possible cancers involving the:
- Adrenal glands
Abdominal and Pelvic MRI: Uses and Purposes
The abdominal and pelvic imaging scan can examine patients for a variety of health concerns.
Symptoms that may prompt a doctor to recommend an MRI for the abdomen and pelvis include:
- Abdominal pain or swelling
- Abnormal blood test results, such as liver or kidney problems
- Lymph nodes in the abdomen
- Masses in the liver, kidneys, adrenals, pancreas, or spleen
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding (for female patients)
- A pelvic mass that occurs during pregnancy (for female patients)
- Pain in the lower belly
- Birth defects of the hips
- Injury or trauma to the hip area
- Unexplained hip pain
- Lumps or swelling in the testicles or scrotum (for male patients)
- Undescended testicle (for male patients and only when unable to be seen using ultrasound)
Often, MRI scans of the abdomen and pelvis also check for lesions, or tissue abnormalities, in the organs and surrounding tissue.
Screening with MRI to monitor cancerous growth in the body before they become critical health issues can help guide treatment and follow-up.
An MRI distinguishes tumors from normal tissue, assisting doctors in understanding more about the size, severity, and spread of possible cancers in a patient’s body.
How the Procedure Is Performed
An MRI scan is fairly straightforward. Each step of the procedure will be explained, and you won’t be asked to do anything you’re not comfortable with.
When you arrive for your MRI appointment, you may be asked to wear a hospital gown or other comfortable clothing and remove all metal items from your clothing and body. Then, you’ll lie on a narrow table, which slides into a tubelike scanner.
Depending on the area(s) being scanned, a contrast dye such as gadolinium may be administered to your body through an IV line into your hand or forearm. This helps obtain clearer images, aiding the medical technologist in forming a better diagnosis.
An abdominal and pelvic MRI generally lasts about 30 to 90 minutes. In cases where more images are needed to complete a diagnosis, it may take up to two hours.
How To Prepare for an Abdominal and Pelvic MRI
Before the test, make sure your radiologist knows about your medical history. Usually, you will receive a medical questionnaire or form prior to the treatment. You’ll be asked to fill out the questionnaire in order to ensure that the MRI procedure is safe for you.
Prior health concerns such as the following may impact whether or not an MRI should be part of your diagnosis process:
- Artificial heart valves
- Heart defibrillator or pacemaker
- Inner ear (cochlear) implants
- Brain aneurysm clips
- Recently placed metal artificial joints
You may also be asked not to drink or eat anything for 4 to 6 hours before the scan, to ensure that clear images of the organs in your stomach area can be produced.
Due to the nature of MRI scans and the powerful magnetic waves, metal objects on your body must be removed. Metal objects to remove include:
- Jewelry, watches, and hearing aids
- Pens, pocket knives, and eyeglasses
- Pins, hairpins, metal zippers, and similar metallic items
- Removable dental work
Because any MRI procedure requires you to be in tight spaces for a period of time, let your radiologist know If you suffer from any level of claustrophobia. You may be provided with medication that helps you relax while in the MRI machine, or you may be moved to an open MRI procedure, which places less spatial pressure on your body during the scan.
What an Abdominal and Pelvic MRI Feels Like
People typically do not experience any pain during an MRI scan of the abdomen and pelvis. The table you lie on may feel hard and cold. You can ask for blankets and pillows to make you more comfortable.
An intercom within the MRI scanner lets you communicate with the radiologist anytime during the treatment. Some scanners come with TV screens and special headphones to help the time pass more quickly. If the humming of the machine bothers you, request earplugs to block the noise.
Movement can blur MRI images and cause errors during the scan. If you find it difficult to lie still for an extended period of time, you may request medication to help you relax and reduce movement while you are in the MRI machine.
Recovery time isn’t necessary after an MRI (unless you’ve taken a sedative, which might take a few hours to wear off completely). You’ll be able to return to your daily activities right after the scan.
A radiologist will examine your MRI images: the results may also be sent to your doctor, who will discuss the results with you and recommend steps for future treatment.
Risks and Benefits of the Procedure
MRI of the abdomen and pelvis comes with minimal risks, and a significant number of benefits.
The MRI procedure does not use ionizing radiation, and no side effects have been reported from the use of magnetic and radio waves.
Allergic reactions to the contrast agent that is sometimes used to enhance MRI images are rare. Be sure to let your radiology technologist know of any allergies or kidney issues before receiving the contrast dye injection.
An MRI is often used to clarify findings from earlier ultrasound, X-ray, or CT scan exams.
Soft tissue examination, especially for the organs in the abdominal and pelvic area, is more effective than CT scans or X-rays, due to the superior soft tissue contrast achievable with MRI.
The image quality of lymph nodes and blood vessels during MRI make it a preferred noninvasive imaging method for blood flow and organ function evaluation.
MRI scans also detect the presence and growth of abnormal tissue before that tissue becomes cancerous, which helps identify timely treatment for long-term health.
In medical emergencies, an abdominal MRI can be useful in evaluating pancreatitis and Crohn’s disease.
Where To Get an MRI of the Abdomen and Pelvis
Talk with your doctor and discuss whether booking an MRI is a good idea.
Often, your doctor can help you find the right imaging clinics and radiologists in your area and can refer you for scanning procedures best suited to your needs.
An MRI is also performed to diagnose the following in the abdominal and pelvic region:
- Benign and malignant tumors and cysts
- Blockages or enlargements of blood vessels
- Liver diseases
- Gallbladder and pancreatic cancer
- Diseases of the small intestine, colon, and rectum
- Causes of abnormal pelvic pain in women, such as fibroids and endometriosis