Magnetic Resonance Cholangiopancreatography (MRCP) is a specialty Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) exam that is performed to view the biliary tract. This allows doctors to examine the bile duct, liver, pancreatic duct and gallbladder to detect gallstones, tumors or other diseases.

MRCP is a noninvasive alternative to traditional endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP), an invasive exam where a tube is inserted through the mouth and passed down into the small intestine.

Because there is no ionizing radiation used in an MRI exam, Magnetic Resonance Imaging is a very popular tool in the medical community. In addition, MRI is a totally painless exam and has no known side effects.

When would I get an MRCP study?

Your medical provider may recommend Magnetic Resonance Cholangiopancreatography to be appropriate in order to:

  • diagnose unexplained abdominal pain
  • assess diseases of the liver, gallbladder, bile ducts, pancreas and pancreatic duct
  • determine the cause of pancreatitis.

What Will I Experience?

You may be instructed not to eat or drink anything for several hours prior to the MRCP.

MRI exams are painless. However, some patients find it challenging to remain still. Others may feel closed-in (claustrophobia) or anxious while in a conventional closed MRI scanner. The scanner can be noisy. Nervous or anxious patients may be offered a mild sedative if available in the facility.

A patient may also ask their medical provider to prescribe a mild sedative to take before the exam.  If a mild sedative is taken, the patient will need to have someone drive them to our center and take them home once the exam is done.

It is normal for the area of your body being imaged to feel slightly warm. It is important that you remain perfectly still while the images are being recorded, which is typically only a few seconds to a few minutes at a time. You will know when images are being recorded because you will hear tapping or thumping sounds when the coils that generate the radiofrequency pulses are activated. You will be able to relax between imaging sequences, but will be asked to maintain your position as much as possible.

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.

You will be offered earplugs or a headset to reduce the noise of the MRI, which produces loud thumping and humming noises during imaging. MRI scanners are air-conditioned and well-lit. Some of our scanners have music you can listen to during the test.

If it is determined that the exam requires an injection of intravenous contrast material, it is normal to feel coolness and a flushing sensation for a minute or two following the injection. The intravenous needle may cause you some discomfort when it is inserted and once it is removed, you may experience some bruising. There is also a very small chance of irritation of your skin at the site of the IV tube insertion.

MRCP is often performed in conjunction with an MRI of the abdomen. The entire procedure typically takes 30 to 45 minutes to complete.