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Magnetic Resonance Cholangiopancreatography(MRCP)

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 of the pancreas
  • Blockages—may be caused by bile duct stones
  • Growths—like tumors

Severe Pancreatitis

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Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

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
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, or 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.

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

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.


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:

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


National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

RadiologyInfo—Radiological Society of North America, Inc.


Health Canada

Public Health Agency of Canada


Diagnostic imaging studies: magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP). The Pancreas Center website. Available at: Accessed January 26, 2015.

Diagnosis magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP). Pancreatic Cancer Action Network website. Available at: Accessed January 26, 2015.

Magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP). website. Available at: Updated May 2, 2013. Accessed January 26, 2015.

MRCP. website. Available at: Updated July 1, 2013. Accessed January 26, 2015.

Last reviewed January 2015 by Michael Woods, MD

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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