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MR Cholangiopancreatography

What is MR cholangiopancreatography (MRCP)?

Magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP) is a special kind of MRI test. Your healthcare provider uses it to look at the biliary and pancreatic system. This includes the pancreas, the pancreatic duct, the bile ducts, gallbladder, and liver. The procedure uses a combination of magnets, radio waves, and a computer to make detailed images. A contrast dye may be used for even better images.   

MRCP is:

  • Noninvasive. This means it's not done with a cut (incision) or tool that goes inside the body.

  • Doesn’t use radiation

  • Gives highly detailed images

  • Helpful for diagnosis and treatment

Why might I need MRCP?

MRCP is used to diagnose or assess conditions such as:

  • Stones in the biliary or pancreatic ducts

  • Tumors

  • Inflammation of the gallbladder, bile duct, liver, pancreatic duct, or pancreas (pancreatitis)

MRCP may also be used to find out the cause of stomach pain.

It's often combined with a standard MRI. Talk with your healthcare provider about the reason for the test.

What are the risks of MRCP?

MRCP is a safe test. It has only a few risks:

  • The MRCP test does not use contrast. But if the test is combined with a standard MRI, you may be given IV contrast. If you have severe kidney disease, you may get scarring in your body from the contrast. Your kidney function often will be tested to determine if you should not get the contrast dye.

  • Problems with implanted metal pieces or devices. This is because of the magnetic fields used to capture images.

  • Allergic reaction to contrast material, if used.

If you are or could be pregnant, tell your healthcare provider. There may be other risks, depending on your specific medical condition. Discuss any concerns with your healthcare provider before the procedure.

How do I get ready for MRCP?

Your healthcare provider will give you instructions on how to prepare for your MRCP. Those instructions may include

  • Fasting for several hours before the procedure

  • Wearing loose-fitting clothes that have no metal fasteners or zippers

  • Leaving all jewelry and metal accessories and other objects at home. These include barrettes or hair pins and any dental work that can be removed.

  • Arranging to have someone drive you home after the procedure if you are to get sedation

You will also need to discuss your health history with your healthcare provider before the test, including:

  • Any long-term (chronic) health conditions

  • Any medical implants that you have, such as metal plates or screws, a pacemaker, or artificial heart valve

  • Any past surgeries

  • Any allergies

  • A history of anxiety about being in closed spaces

What happens during MRCP?

  • You will lie on a table. You may be held in position with straps to keep you from moving. Moving would distort the images. You may have coils placed around you that will help to send radio waves.

  • If you are having the procedure with contrast dye, you will have an intravenous (IV) line started to give the dye.

  • The table will slide into the MRI machine to capture images of your stomach. 

  • The radiologist or technologist will guide the procedure from a computer outside of the MRI room. But they will be able to hear you, speak with you, and see you at all times using a 2-way intercom.

  • The machine is very loud. Ear plugs or headphones are often given.

The entire test usually takes about 45 minutes. MRCP may be done outpatient, requiring no hospital stay, or as part of a hospital stay.

What happens after MRCP?

If you weren't sedated, you won't need any recovery time, and you can usually resume your normal activities right away. If you were sedated, it may take a few hours for the sedation to wear off, and someone will need to drive you home.

Next steps

Before you agree to the test or the procedure make sure you know:

  • The name of the test or procedure

  • The reason you are having the test or procedure

  • What results to expect and what they mean

  • The risks and benefits of the test or procedure

  • What the possible side effects or complications are

  • When and where you are to have the test or procedure

  • Who will do the test or procedure and what that person’s qualifications are

  • What would happen if you did not have the test or procedure

  • Any alternative tests or procedures to think about

  • When and how you will get the results

  • Who to call after the test or procedure if you have questions or problems

  • How much you will have to pay for the test or procedure

Online Medical Reviewer: Kenny Turley PA-C
Online Medical Reviewer: Maryann Foley RN BSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Kent Turley BSN MSN RN
Date Last Reviewed: 3/1/2019
© 2000-2020 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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