MRI Abdomen

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What is an Abdominal MRI Scan?

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) of the abdomen is a noninvasive imaging test that uses a powerful magnetic field and radio energy to visualise organs and structures inside the abdomen (stomach). It captures cross-sectional images of these structures, allowing doctors to check for abnormalities without even making a single incision.

Since MRI scans do not involve X-rays, there is also no radiation involved, making it a safe test to carry out during pregnancy. However, because the effects of the powerful magnetic fields on the foetus are not well known yet, those pregnant may be advised to avoid undergoing an MRI scan. This scan is considered a safer alternative to CT (computed tomography) scans.

An abdominal MRI scan is useful in diagnosing masses in the liver, intestines, kidneys, pancreas, lymph nodes and other organs within the abdomen and is able to differentiate tumours from healthy tissue, making it useful in the staging of cancer. It is also able to assess the presence of a blocked tube, stones, or abnormal fluid and measure the blood flow in abdominal blood vessels.

Why Would I Need an MRI scan of the Abdomen?

Abdominal MRI scans are used for numerous reasons, including:

  • To clarify findings in X-rays or CT scans
  • To measure the blood flow in the abdomen
  • To examine the abdominal blood vessels and lymph nodes
  • To determine the cause of abdominal pain or swelling
  • To assess the cause of abnormal blood tests
  • To examine abnormalities of the abdominal region
  • To assess chronic diseases and their complications (e.g., liver fibrosis/cirrhosis)
  • To diagnose certain gastrointestinal conditions
  • To investigate gallstones/liver stones in patients with atypical symptoms.
  • To monitor inflammatory conditions like ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease
  • To diagnose and evaluate abdominal growths and tumours

How Do I Prepare for an MRI in Singapore?

  • Most patients are allowed to eat or drink before their scan, but if you are suffering from any medical conditions like faecal urgency or acid reflux, you may be advised to fast for four to six hours prior to the exam with only small sips of water.
  • If you plan to take a mild sedative for your abdominal MRI scan, please have a family member or friend drive you home after the test. 
  • Make sure to let your Gastroenterologist know if you have a pacemaker or implantable device. Depending on the type of pacemaker you have, you may be offered an alternative imaging option.
  • Please also inform your doctor if you have any type of metal implants, such as artificial heart valves, stents, plates, clips, pins, or screws.
  • Avoid applying deodorants, perfumes, body lotions, hair sprays or gels before the scan. These products may contain metals that could interfere with your scan. However, you may use regular soap to shower.
  • You will also need to refrain from carrying metallicobjects like watches, dental implants, spectacles, pocket knives, hairpins, and other items that contain metal.

What to Expect from an MRI Scan in Singapore?

Prior to undergoing the procedure, patients will undergo an MRI patient questionnaire about the presence of any metal in their body, contrast allergy, medicine patches (e.g., glucose monitor, fentanyl, nicotine, etc.), claustrophobia and other factors.

This is because the strong magnetic fields emitted by the MRI machine can cause older generations of pacemakers to malfunction or dislodge the metal inside your body, such as implants from knee replacements or screws/plates from prior surgeries. The radiographer will screen your MRI suitability prior to the scan and look out for these.

Similar to a CT scan, a gadolinium-based contrast might be injected into your vein during some MRI scans, allowing the radiologist to have a more enhanced and clearer picture of certain areas.

During the MRI, you will be asked to lie on a table, which will move you into a large tunnel-like machine. The scan usually lasts approximately 30-60 minutes, but some may take longer, and a radiographer will be observing you from an adjacent room throughout the scan. The movement of the magnets within the MRI machine produces a certain level of noise, and the narrow tunnel may induce claustrophobia in some people. Therefore, if needed, headphones and light sedation are available upon request to enhance patient comfort.

How Long Does an Abdominal MRI Scan Take?

The test will take about 30-60 minutes or even longer, depending on the size of the region being scanned and the number of images being taken.

What’s the Difference Between an MRI and a CT Scan of the Abdomen?

An abdominal MRI scan will produce clearer images compared to the CT scan. This is most useful for visualising the patient’s organs and soft tissues, while CT scans are often used to identify any bone fractures or tumours and internal bleeding.

Can an MRI Scan of the Abdomen Detect Bowel Problems?

Yes. An abdominal MRI scan can help your Gastroenterologist examine your digestive system, allowing them to accurately identify bowel problems such as inflammation, bleeding, swollen lymph nodes or other changes in the bowel wall.

Limitations of MRI Scans

Although MRI does not involve any radiation and has no documented side effects from the machine’s magnetic fields to date, there are certain risks, and they include:

  • Contrast dye risks: For patients with gadolinium/dye allergies or severe pre-existing kidney disease, an MRI scan without contrast may be offered, or in some cases, alternative imaging modalities may be recommended instead.
  • Risk of anxiety or claustrophobia: If you have severe claustrophobia, the small tunnel-like space of the MRI machine may cause distress or trigger a panic attack. Therefore, make sure to highlight this concern to your Gastroenterologist or Radiologist prior to the scan.

Furthermore, if you are currently breastfeeding, it is advisable to notify your doctor to ensure the contrast dyes used in the test are safe.

If you want tailored specialised advice on the benefits of MRI scans or need to undergo an MRI scan for any gastrointestinal issue, Alpha Digestive & Liver Centre might be the right place for you. Our experienced team will gladly help you with whatever you need and schedule an appointment with our Consultant Gastroenterologist, Dr Benjamin Yip. With many years of experience in treating numerous patients, you can rely on Dr Yipto get the correct diagnosis and treatment.


  1. Luo, Xixi, and Debra Sullivan. “Abdominal MRI Scan: Purpose, Procedure, and Risks.” Healthline, Accessed 9 January 2023.
  2. “Magnetic resonance imaging of the abdomen: applications in the oncology patient.” PubMed, Accessed 9 January 2023.
  3. “MRI”. Mayo Clinic, Accessed 4 March 2023.
  4. “Abdominal MRI Scan”. Mount Sinai, Accessed 4 March 2023.
  5. “MRI patient questionnaire”. NHS, Accessed 5 March 2023.

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Dr Benjamin Yip

Consultant Gastroenterologist
MBBS (Singapore), MRCP (UK), MCI (NUS), FRCP (Edin), FASGE (USA), FAMS (Gastroenterology)

Dr Benjamin Yip is a Consultant Gastroenterologist and the Medical Director of the Alpha Digestive & Liver Centre.

Dr Yip believes that gastrointestinal health is hugely interconnected to our whole-body health and sees patients with General Medical, as well as Gastroenterology and Hepatology problems.

His expertise lies in Advanced Endoscopy, including complex endoscopic procedures such as ERCP, EUS, single balloon enteroscopy, Spyglass cholangioscopy and enteral dilation/stenting.

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