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Magnetic Resonance Cholangiopancreatography

  • Definition

    An MRI uses magnetic waves and computers to make pictures of the inside of the body. A magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP) is a special type of MRI scan. It is used to make pictures of the hepatobiliary and pancreatic systems.
  • Reasons for Test

    MRCP is used to examine the:
    • Liver
    • Gall bladder
    • Bile ducts, which are tube-like structure that carry bile
    • Pancreas and pancreatic ducts, which are tube-like structures that carry digestive enzymes
    Your doctor may order this test to look for:
    • Cause of symptoms like abdominal pain or jaundice, which is a yellowing of the skin caused by liver problems
    • Conditions like pancreatitis, which is swelling or infection of the pancreas
    • Blockages—may be caused by bile duct stones
    • Growths—like tumors
    Severe Pancreatitis
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  • Possible Complications

    Complications are rare. If you are planning to have an MRCP, your doctor will review a list of possible complications.
    MRCP can be harmful if you have metal inside your body including:
    • Medical devices likes pacemakers, ear implants, insulin pumps, and shunts
    • Joint replacements, plates, or metal pins
    • Metal objects or fragments in your body—An x-ray may be done before the MRCP.
    Make sure your doctor knows of any internal metal before the test.
    Some people have a reaction to the contrast dye. The contrast is chemical that improves the details in the pictures. In some people, the contrast can cause allergic reactions or kidney problems.
    Be sure to discuss these risks with your doctor before the test. Let your doctor know about any allergies or unrelated illnesses you may have.
  • What to Expect

    Prior to Test
    In the days leading up to the MRCP, you will be asked about:
    • Your medical history, including:
      • If you’ve ever had an allergic reaction to contrast dye
      • If you are pregnant—be sure to tell your doctor if you are or could be pregnant
    • Medical devices that you may have in your body. This includes pacemakers, ear implants, insulin pumps, neurostimulators, and shunts
    • Joint replacements, plates, staples, or metal pins
    • Other metal objects or fragments in your body—An x-ray may be done before the MRCP.
    You may be asked to stop eating or drinking for about 2-4 hours before the MRCP.
    Right before the test, you will be asked to remove any metal objects. This includes jewelry, hearing aids, and glasses.
    Description of Test
    You may be given a mild sedative to help you relax.
    If a contrast dye is being used, a small IV needle will be inserted into your hand or arm.
    You will be asked to lie very still on a sliding table. The table will slide into a narrow, enclosed cylinder. The technician will give you directions through an intercom. Images will be taken of the organs and ducts in your abdomen. When the exam is done, you will slide out of the machine. If you have an IV needle, it will be removed.
    In some cases, both an MRCP and an MRI scan of the rest of the abdomen will be done.
    After Test
    You will be asked to wait while the images are looked at. More images may be needed.
    If you were given a sedative, do not drive, operate machinery, or make important decisions until it wears off completely.
    How Long Will It Take?
    The exam may take 15-45 minutes. The length will depend on whether you need an MRI scan also.
    Will It Hurt?
    The contrast dye injected can cause some discomfort during the injection.
  • Results

    A radiologist will look at the image. A report will be given to your doctor. You will meet with your doctor to go over the results.
  • Call Your Doctor

    After the test, call your doctor if any of the following occur:
    • Any allergic or abnormal symptoms, especially if you were injected with contrast dye
    • Symptoms worsen

    National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

    Radiology Info—Radiological Society of North America


    Health Canada

    Public Health Agency of Canada


    Diagnostic imaging studies: magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP). The Pancreas Center website. Available at: Accessed February 18, 2016.

    Diagnosis magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP). Pancreatic Cancer Action Network website. Available at: Accessed February 18, 2016.

    Magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP). Radiology Info—Radiological Society of North America website. Available at: Updated June 2, 2015. Accessed February 18, 2016.

    MRCP. Patient UK website. Available at: Updated July 1, 2013. Accessed February 18, 2016.

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