Magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP)

Magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP) is a relatively new technique for viewing the bile ducts, the pancreatic duct and the gallbladder. Usually no contrast medium has to be administered for MRCP, unlike some other techniques. MRCP uses magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to produce detailed pictures.

Magnetic resonance imaging uses radiofrequency waves directed at the body to excite hydrogen atoms in the molecules of water in your body. This is done in a strong magnetic field, which causes the protons in the nuclei of your hydrogen atoms to line up, rather than being in random positions. These protons emit radio signals when they return to their natural alignment. The signals are used to build a computerised image that shows differences in body tissues based on the amount of water in them. This enables extremely clear and detailed pictures to be obtained of the bile ducts and pancreatic ducts.

MRCP is an outpatient procedure that involves lying very still in an MRI scanner for several minutes at a time. You do not feel anything while the scan takes place, although the machine is quite noisy. The entire experience should be over in less than 20 minutes.

Having MRCP does not expose you to any radiation. However, because MRCP uses a strong magnetic field, people with some types of metal objects in their body cannot have this test. Ask the centre performing the scan for advice if you have any of the following inside your body:

  • metal clips to close off an aneurysm (expanded blood vessel);
  • an artificial heart valve or cardiac pacemaker;
  • a joint replacement;
  • a cochlear (inner ear) implant; or
  • any other metal objects.
Last Reviewed: 19 March 2010
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References

  • 1. Radiological Society of North America; American College of Radiology. Radiologyinfo.org. Magnetic resonance cholagiopancreatography (MRCP) (updated 5 June 2012). http://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?pg=mrcp (accessed Aug 2012).