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Magnetic Resonance Cholangiopancreatography


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Definition | Reasons for Test | Possible Complications | What to Expect | Results | Call Your Doctor


An MRI scan is used to make detailed pictures of the inside of the body. A computer helps to make these detailed pictures using magnets. A magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP) is a special type of MRI scan. It is used to make pictures of organs and structures in the abdomen.

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 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.

Some people have a bad 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.

MRI scans can be harmful if you have metal inside your body, such as joint replacements or a pacemaker. Make sure your doctor knows of any internal metal before the test.

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

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, and metal pins
  • 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.

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 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 abdomen will be done.

You will be asked to wait while the images are looked at. More images may be needed.

If were given a sedative, do not drive, operate machinery, or make important decisions.

The exam may take 15-45 minutes. The length will depend on whether you need an MRI scan also.

The contrast dye injected can cause some discomfort during the injection.


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 occurs:

  • Worsening of symptoms
  • Any allergic or abnormal symptoms, especially if you were injected with contrast dye

National Library of Medicine



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Diagnostic imaging studies: magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP). The Pancreas Center website. Available at: http://pancreasmd.org/ed_imaging_mrcp.html. Accessed March 28, 2013.

Diagnosis magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP). Pancreatic Cancer Action Network website. Available at: http://www.pancan.org/section_facing_pancreatic_cancer/learn_about_pan_cancer/diagnosis/MRCP.php. Accessed March 28, 2013..

Magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP). RadiologyInfo.org website. Available at: http://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?pg=mrcp. Updated June 5, 2012. Accessed March 28, 2013.

MRCP. Patient.co.uk. website. Available at: http://www.patient.co.uk/health/MRCP-Scan.htm. Updated February 24, 2010. Accessed March 28, 2013.

Last reviewed June 2013 by

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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