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Small bowel MRI (enterography)

We offer diagnostic imaging of your small intestine to help identify inflammation, bleeding, or other issues.

What is a small bowel MRI?

Small bowel MRI uses strong magnets and radiofrequencies to create detailed images of your small intestine, which is usually difficult to see with an endoscope. These images will help your Consultant investigate problems such as bleeding or inflammation to help diagnose small bowel conditions.

I have a question about small bowel MRI

Why would I have a small bowel MRI?

You may need a small bowel MRI to diagnose small bowel disease such as Crohn’s Disease. It can also help find internal bleeding, areas of swelling, abscesses, or tears in the walls of your small intestine, blockages, or tumours.

Why is an MRI scan used for a small bowel disease?

If you have a chronic condition, such as Crohn’s Disease, and need regular scans to monitor and manage your condition, a small intestine MRI is better than a traditional barium meal/x-ray or CT scan, as it avoids repeated exposure to the radiation from the x-rays.

An MRI is also better than x-ray for viewing problems with the soft tissue of the small intestine because it produces images from all around the body.

Am I suitable for a small bowel MRI?

As with any MRI, you won’t be able to have this type of scan if you have:

  • An implanted pacemaker
  • MRI-unsafe cochlear implants or medicine ports
  • Certain prosthetic metallic devices
  • Implants that are unsafe for MRI, including a brain aneurysm clip
  • Shrapnel injuries
  • Metal fragments in your eyes

You should also let your Consultant or Radiographer know if you have any of these implants – or if you have any problems with your kidneys.

MRI scans are safe for pregnant women after the first trimester, but you should tell your Consultant if you are – or think you might be – pregnant.

How should I prepare for a small bowel MRI?

You’ll need to complete an MRI safety questionnaire prior to attending to rule out any unsafe implants or devices. If you have had an injury where metal has got into your eyes, you may need to attend prior for an x-ray to check.

On the day, you should avoid eating anything for at least six hours before your scan, but you can continue to drink water, black tea or coffee or fruit squash.

You should arrive at the hospital about an hour before your MRI scan time in order to drink the contrast solution. We’ll let you know what time this should be.

Please leave any jewellery at home, if possible, as you won’t be able to wear this during your scan.

What happens during a small bowel MRI?

About an hour before your MRI scan, we’ll give you about 1.5 litres of oral contrast solution to drink, which is a mild laxative. We’ll ask you to drink this steadily over a period of 45-50 minutes. This will fill and highlight your small intestine so that your Consultant can see it better.

Your Radiographer will place a cannula into your arm through which they’ll inject another contrast dye called Gadolinium and an injection of Buscopan during the scan. This dye improves the quality of the images of your body tissue and the Buscopan will help prevent an involuntary bowel movement during your scan. You may notice that your vision becomes blurry because of the Buscopan; this is only temporary.

During the scan, you’ll be lying on your front inside the scanner, going in feet first. You must lie as still as possible so that we can get the best possible images.

We’ll make sure that the area that’s being scanned is positioned correctly and that you’re comfortable. You’ll have a call bell to hold which you can press anytime to stop the scan, for example, if you feel uncomfortable or claustrophobic. We’ll also give you headphones to wear for the duration of your scan; this is so you can hear the Radiographer when they talk to you and so that you can listen to music if you’d like to.

Your Radiographer will give you instructions on how to breathe during your scan. This might include holding your breath for between 15-20 seconds.

The actual scan will take between 30-45 minutes.

You can make contact and speak to your own GP regarding concerns if you are claustrophobic. They may be able to prescribe a mild sedative for your MRI scans. 

What should I expect after a small bowel MRI?

You may experience abdominal discomfort or diarrhoea after drinking the contrast solution, so we’ll ensure you have access to a toilet. We’d advise you not to drive until any effects have worn off or until an hour after the Buscopan injection.

If you feel unwell after your scan, or you think you may have had an allergic reaction to one of the contrast dyes, please let us know straight away or attend A&E.

We’ll send the results of your scan to your referring clinician once we’ve reviewed the images.

Contact us about a private small bowel MRI scan

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