Body Parts Abdomen

Abdomen MRI

Is an MRI scan of the abdomen right for you? Find out what an abdomen MRI scan can show, the diagnoses it can provide, and why a doctor might order one.
Written by
Lillie Coles

MRI Abdomen Scans: What You Need to Know

An abdominal MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan is a diagnostic imaging test, which uses a magnetic field and radio waves to generate images of the inside of the body, without any exposure to radiation.

These images help radiologists understand and diagnose the causes of health concerns, and recommend potential treatments and next steps. Your abdomen (tummy area) is home to the abdominal organs, and abdominal MRI can help distinguish tumours, check the health of normal tissues, and create detailed pictures of your internal body structures.

Why would a doctor order an MRI of the abdomen?

If you are struggling with abdominal symptoms, such as stomach pain,

An MRI of the abdomen can also clarify findings from an abnormal blood test or physical examinations. MRI exams provide images that can help doctors visualise what may be causing symptoms.

What does an MRI of the abdomen show?

MRI scans are a non-invasive method for imaging most body parts. These include organs, bones and joints, lymph nodes, and soft tissues, which include muscles, ligaments, tendons, and blood vessels.

Our abdominal MRI scans provide an overview of the main organs and bodily structures of the abdominal cavity. These include:

  • Stomach

  • Liver

  • Spleen

  • Pancreas

  • Kidneys

  • Small intestine

  • Large intestine

  • Gallbladder

  • Adrenal glands

  • Lymph nodes

It can also examine the blood flow and blood vessels to check for aneurysms.

If you know your health concern is directly related to your liver, kidneys, small intestine, pancreas, small bowel, or adrenal glands, we offer specific body part scans for these organs. Instead of a general abdominal overview, these one-part scans offer focussed reports about the particular body part of concern. Visit our body part list to select.

What can an abdominal MRI scan diagnose?

An abdominal MRI scan can diagnose a multitude of health conditions. If you have been suffering from abdominal pain, unexplained weight loss, jaundice (yellowing of eyes and skin), or blood in your urine, an abdominal MRI can help uncover the reasons why. Example diagnoses could include:

  • Abnormal growths, lumps, or masses. MRI can also differentiate between tumours (cancer), cysts, and normal bodily tissues

  • Enlargement of the internal organs

  • Inflammation or infection

  • Diseases, such as kidney or liver disease

  • Obstructions, damage, or abnormal changes to blood vessels

  • Aneurysms, including abdominal aortic

  • Gallstones or bile duct stones

Do I need an MRI abdomen with contrast?

An abdominal MRI scan can be done with or without a contrast agent, depending on the purpose of the scan. It may also be called a contrast medium, and is a special dye - usually Gadolinium - that helps to highlight certain organs, blood vessels, and tissues in greater definition.

Some people have allergic reactions to the contrast material, so it's important to confirm any allergies with your radiographer before the scan starts. You might also be asked to provide recent blood test results to confirm your kidneys are functioning normally ahead of your scan, as the kidneys help remove the contrast agent through your urine.

If you do need a contrast agent, it can be administered by injection (IV), or taken as oral contrast which means it is commonly taken as a drink. Oral contrast is usually only used for MRI of the small bowel, which is a specific scan bookable on our website.

When you book with, you'll receive a pre-scan consultation call with an experienced healthcare professional. They will be able to advise you on whether a contrast injection is needed for your scan, and check that you've chosen the right scan for your symptoms.

CT scan vs MRI for abdomen imaging: Which should you choose?

MRI is a highly detailed imaging technique mostly used for imaging of the soft tissues and organs, especially the liver, bile ducts, pancreas and bowels. They are commonly used to investigate jaundice.

Meanwhile, CT scans are faster than MRI, and are more commonly used in trauma and emergency settings. If you have found a lump in your abdomen that can be felt in a physical assessment, a CT scan is usually the imaging method of choice to identify the composition, position and malignancy of a lump (whether or not it is cancerous).

Not sure which scan to choose?

Our team of experienced clinicians are on-hand to provide guidance about which scan to choose for your symptoms and medical concerns. You can book a phone consultation with them for £50, and, if they recommend a scan and you go on to book it with us, you'll get your money back in the form of a discount off your scan fee. There's no obligation to book a scan afterwards, but the consultation can help you get valuable advice about whether or not a CT or MRI of the abdomen can provide the answers you're looking for.

Can MRI detect cancer in the abdomen?

Yes, MRI can detect cancer in the abdomen. Visit our blog for more information about MRI for cancer detection.

MRI can help doctors to differentiate between tumours and healthy tissues in the abdomen, such as in the liver or bowel. Some types of cancer are more likely to be detected by a CT scan, such as stomach cancer. Your clinician will be able to ensure you have selected the correct scan for your needs, and after your scan, they will be able to recommend whether a further imaging test such as CT may be necessary for a definitive diagnosis of cancer in the abdominal area.

Are magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans safe?

MRI scans don't use ionising radiation, whereas CT and X-ray scans do. Instead, an MRI scanner uses strong magnets and radio waves to generate images.

These powerful magnets can mean that MRI scans are contraindicated (i.e., not suitable) for certain patients, especially those with implanted medical devices such as some pacemakers, cochlear implants, artificial joints, or those with metal objects in their body such as shrapnel or metal fragments.

This is also why metallic objects like jewellery, belts, watches, glasses and dentures, and clothing with metal zippers, buckles or underwires are not suitable for wearing in an MRI machine. This is because they can either be attracted to the strong magnetic field, which poses a safety risk, or can interact with the magnets and blur MRI images or just obscure the results (a phenomenon also known as an artifact).

How long does an abdominal MRI take?

An MRI of the abdomen can take around 45 minutes to complete. Minor preparations are required before the scan can begin, such as completing an assessment of your medical history, discussing any safety considerations, and storing any belongings that can’t be taken into the scanning room. This includes devices like mobile phones and smart watches, some types of shoes, coats and belts.

Sometimes, if required, you might need to change into a hospital gown or have a contrast IV (injection) or coil devices set up, to enhance the quality of your images.

During the scan you'll be asked to lie flat on a narrow table that moves inside the cylindrical-shaped MRI machine. MRI machines make loud clanging and humming noises, so you will be given earplugs or special headphones to protect your hearing, and allow you to speak to the radiographer by intercom. You might be asked to hold your breath for short periods of time to prevent blurring on your images caused by the rise and fall of your chest.

MRI scans are both safe and non-invasive, which means you can resume your day as normal afterwards.

Sources used

Caraiani, C., Ye, D., Petresc, B., & Dietrich, C. F. (2020). Indications for abdominal imaging: When and what to choose? Journal of Ultrasonography, 20(80), e43–e54.

Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) and  American College of Radiology (ACR). (n.d.). Abdominal and pelvic MRI.

Tests for stomach cancer | Diagnosis of stomach cancer. (n.d.). American Cancer Society.


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