GI Series: MRCP scan test procedure explained

What is MRCP scan

stands for Magnetic resonance
cholangiopancreatography (mrcp)
, is a diagnostic
imaging procedure that evaluates the biliary and pancreatic ducts, gallbladder,
and pancreas. It is usually done when there are symptoms of biliary and
pancreatic origin.

MRCP uses
magnetic resonance imaging to examine the bile ducts and pancreas. The test is
done in an MRI machine. A substance
called gadolinium (a contrast agent) will be injected into the person’s
bloodstream before the exam to help make certain parts of the body easier to
see on images.

How the procedure is

The scan
is typically done in an outpatient setting. The patient will then lie on their
side or stomach while images are taken of the liver, pancreas, and bile ducts.

This is a
noninvasive test and doesn’t require ionizing radiation. Though you need to
inform in prior about any metal implants or electromagnetic device you wear
e.g.  joint replacements, metallic heart valves or pacemakers.

What is the preparation for
MRCP test procedure?

You might
be asked to stop eating and drinking a few hours before the procedure and wear
loose fitting clothes and remove any devices, rings or credit/debit cards (that
contain magnetic strip).

The test involves lying on a table that slides
into a tube shaped structure which contains circular magnets. As the MRI scan
can take several minutes, unlike the CT scan, people with claustrophobia may
find it uncomfortable and may need sedation.

In addition, you might provide also need to
provide any information about any previous contrast related reaction, if any.

How much time MRCP test takes?

MRCP test takes around 15 minutes but if abdomen
is done along with it might take 30-45 minutes, in addition, you might be given
a contrast injection through your veins.

How MRCP works

The MRCP doesn’t use any radiation, e.g. x-rays,
it utilizes magnetic waves produced by the rotating magnet inside the scanner,
which causes alignment of hydrogen atoms in the body, the waves emitted by the
atoms during re-alignment are read by a scanner and processed by the computer
to produce detailed images of the inner structures of the body in order to find
the disorders.

   Is MRCP painful?

We often get asked by the patients whether this
test causes any pain, the simple answer is no, as this non-invasive scan
utilizes magnetic radiowaves which don’t affect the body itself in any way.

   Difference between MRI and MRCP

Some people take MRI and MRCP as totally
different tests, in reality MRCP is just a special MRI scan that focuses on the
biliary and pancreatic system, specifically the biliary and pancreatic ducts.

How MRCP is interpreted

Once the scan is done, the images of the scan
are reviewed by a trained radiologist who does the interpretation and reports
the findings to your primary physician.


Risks and benefits of MRCP

The main
benefits of MRCP lie in the non-invasive nature and no radiation involved. Also, the MRI scan produces high quality images of the soft tissues, hence more
definite characterization of diseases can be made e.g. stones, tumours, inflammation,
infections and strictures.

 The contrast agents utilized in the mri scan
cause less allergic reactions and renal injury compared to those containing

There are
some limitations too which might necessitate other interventions;

with metallic implants and devices cannot proceed with MR scan.

people might not tolerate the scan time

unable to hold breath or lay still might make the scan less accurate.

Cost &
availability is a major limiting factor regarding MRI scan in non-tertiary care


MRCP vs ERCP: difference,
pros and cons

ERCP is a
type of endoscopic procedure that is used to diagnose the pancreas and bile
ducts. It is a test that can be done on an outpatient basis.  A small
tube called an endoscope is inserted into the mouth, throat, or nose and then
passed through the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum until it reaches the upper
part of the small intestine. The doctor inserts a device called a catheter
through the endoscope into one of two ducts in order to inject dye. The dye
lets the biliary & pancreatic channels be visualized.

Compared to MRCP the ERCP has some pros and cons
as well:


Diagnostic as well as therapeutic procedure (
e.g. any biliary duct stone can be removed, any blockage can be opened or stent
placed and biopsy samples can be taken) meanwhile MRCP is just a diagnostic test

The diagnostic efficacy is comparable between

Nephrogenic systemic fibrosis is a rare
complication of gadolinium based contrasts used in MRCP, in comparison no IV
contrast is given in ERCP.


ERCP is an invasive procedure which requires
sedation and is a day case procedure, with some minor risks of bleeding and
perforation along with pancreatitis.

test is more sensitive than an ERCP when it comes to detecting gallstones or
pancreatitis, but it cannot identify stones as small as those that can be seen
with an ERCP.

What is
the cost of MRCP test?

the MRCP test costs from $300 to $1500 depending upon insurance.

In UK the
MRCP scan costs varies from GBP 300 – 360

Pakistan the MRCP scan costs around PKR 15000.


N, Charles-Edwards G, Grant LA. Magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography:
the ABC of MRCP. 
Insights Imaging. 2012;3(1):11-21. doi:10.1007/s13244-011-0129-9

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