MRI 101: Guide to an MRI of The Small Bowel
According to research, 40 per cent of adults suffer some form of gastrointestinal disorders. These can range in severity from mild irritable bowel syndrome to Crohn’s disease. Gastrointestinal distress can present itself in the form of vomiting, diarrhoea, or abdominal pain.
Persistent symptoms signify a potentially significant gastrointestinal problem. In this case, your doctor may order an MRI of the small bowel–also known as a magnetic resonance enterography (MRE). This procedure will allow doctors to view inside the small intestines to see if larger intestinal problems are occurring.
If you are interested in learning more about an MRI scan of the small bowel, continue reading. We will discuss what is seen in this procedure, how long it will take, and what to expect during the procedure.
What Does an MRI of the Bowel Show?
A magnetic resonance enterography (MRE) scan is a type of MRI technique that has been developed over the past 20 years. This MRI method uses distension, an oral contrast agent and a specialised pad to capture images of the intestines. This pad is placed on the abdomen and generates low-frequency waves that can travel past the liver to the intestines.
The scan can then capture images identifying the stiffness of the tissue by measuring the waves as they pass through the small intestine. Before this procedure was developed a traditional MRI was unable to capture clear pictures of the small bowels and other diagnostic tools needed to be used.
During an MRE scan, the images produced will show:
- Folds of the intestines
- Tissue damage
These images can be used by radiologists to diagnose potential gastrointestinal diseases.
Can an MRI Detect Bowel Problems?
A specialized MRE scan can be used to identify the culprits of bowel problems. By identifying possible bleeds, inflammation, or abnormal growth an MRE can help a radiologist form a diagnosis as to what is causing your bowel problems.
How Long Does an MRI of the Bowel Take?
The entire process of a small bowel MRI can take up to 3 hours to complete. Although the scan itself takes only 10–30 minutes, the ingested contrast fluid needs to be consumed approximately every 30 minutes for 2 hours before the start of the scan.
Can You See Colon Polyps On An MRI?
Breakthroughs in MRE technology has made it possible to view polyps inside the colon. This MRE procedure can be used as an alternative to a traditional colonoscopy. However, more work still needs to be done to ensure an MRE scan can consistently identify small polyps of less than 5mm.
What to Expect From an MRI of The Lower Bowel?
On the day of your procedure, you cannot consume food or liquid for at least 4 hours before your procedure. If you take any medication, you may do so as normal but with no more than 8 ounces of liquid.
You will need to arrive approximately 2.5 hours before the start of your MRE scan. You will be asked to fill out a health questionnaire identifying any recent surgeries, implanted medical devices, allergies, or pregnancy. For adults, 1 litre of a contrast dye beverage will need to need to be consumed every 30 minutes for 2 hours before the scan can begin. It takes time for the drink to make its way through your digestive system and properly illuminate the necessary small bowel tissue. You may feel full or have to go to the bathroom after drinking the contrast material, this is a common reaction and no need to worry.
Minutes before the scan will begin, you will be given a second form of contrast through an IV. This contrast dye will allow the radiographer to see the blood vessels connecting your small intestines to your abdomen. You may also require an additional injection to slow your bowel movements to capture an accurate image.
Scan will Begin
The technician will have you lay down on the MRI table. It is common to have pillows or straps used to keep your body in the correct position for the scan. The technician will place a pad or blocks onto the abdomen. These will produce waves that will allow the MRI machine to capture the necessary images of your intestine.
The technician will be monitoring you through a window in an adjacent room. You will be able to communicate with them and they will be able to provide instructions through a microphone and speaker system. If for any reason you begin to feel uncomfortable simply inform the technician and they will work to alleviate your discomfort.
During the scan, the technician will ask you to hold your breath several times. Try to remain as still as possible throughout the procedure. Any sudden movement can cause distorted images.
After your scan is complete the technician will remove your IV. You may feel dizzy when you first stand up and you may be nauseous for several hours after the exam, these are common side effects. If these symptoms last into the following day, contact your doctor.
After a radiologist has reviewed your scan they will forward them to your doctor. They will then contact you directly to discuss the results.
The Bottom Line
With a large portion of the adult population reporting gastrointestinal issues or discomfort, the need for small bowel diagnostics is growing. It can be challenging to assess the severity of these issues without the use of CT scans, ultrasounds, and MRE scans.
If you are interested in more information about a small bowel MRI scan, contact us. Our team is ready to answer any questions you may have.