How Is MRCP Different From MRI?

Medically Reviewed on 10/5/2021
MRCP is a subtype of an MRI scan that is better suited for detailed images of the pancreas, gallbladder, and bile ducts.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a test that uses powerful magnets, radio waves, and a computer to get detailed pictures of body organs. The MRI uses three-dimensional images of an organ taken from different angles to help the doctor get an idea about the organ structure, its blood supply, and specific conditions, such as scarring or swelling over the organ. It can even show an area of dead tissues. A type of MRI called contrast MRI uses a special dye (gadolinium) to enhance the image quality of the organs to be assessed.

A magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP) is a subtype of an MRI scan. It takes detailed pictures of the organs, especially the pancreas, gallbladder, and bile ducts. The lesions of the ducts of the hepatobiliary tree (a network of tube-like channels in the liver and gallbladder) and pancreas are better seen with MRCP compared to an MRI. An MRCP is often a comparable non-invasive option to an endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography or ERCP (an invasive procedure where a scope or camera is inserted into the hepatobiliary tree and the pancreatic ducts).

The doctor may use MRCP exams in the following conditions:

  • To examine the liver, gallbladder, hepatobiliary tree, pancreatic duct, and pancreas for growths, stones, swelling, infection, or cancers
  • Locating gallstones hiding in the ducts around the gallbladder
  • Obstructive jaundice
  • Evaluation of the patients with pancreatitis
  • Unexplained abdominal pain

Compared to MRI, MRCP is an advanced investigation and may not be available at all hospitals.

What happens in an MRCP scan?

Magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP) is a non-invasive technique that uses a powerful magnetic field, a computer, and radio waves to scan and assess the liver, gallbladder, bile ducts, pancreas, and pancreatic duct. It is a painless procedure that does not require people to undergo sedation or anesthesia.

An MRCP scan will take approximately 20 to 40 minutes, but some scans may take more time depending on the condition and pre-procedural formalities. Sometimes, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the abdomen and pelvis is done together with MRCP (especially in case of suspected cancers). This MRI-MRCP scan may take anywhere between two and two and a half hours.

You’ll have to enter the scanner in which MRI-MRCP is done. The setup is a short cylinder that opens at the ends. You will lie on a motor-powered bed that moves inside the scanner, where you must remain still as the machine takes images. All the while, you will hear slicing noises. At certain times, you will be asked to hold your breath because specific images are being captured.

The images of MRI, as well as MRCP, are sent to the board-certified radiologist for evaluation and diagnosis. They will then share the findings based on your symptoms with the doctor.

How do I prepare for an MRCP?

The preparation of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP) is similar. Fasting for at least eight hours is mandatory beforehand, and only sips of water are allowed. Sometimes, you may be required to take laxatives 48 hours before the MRCP scan so that there are no gas shadows on the images taken. If you have any piercings or metal implants, you must inform the technician accordingly. Any metal in your body does not disqualify you from having an MRI or MRCP. The decision is taken on a case-to-case basis. You may need to remove your dentures, wigs, and hearing aids as well.

If you have a pacemaker fitted, you must inform the technician. Though many MRI-MRCP machines are designed to allow patients with pacemakers, it is better to discuss this in advance. It’s also best to bring along detailed information about your device and your leads.


You may need to fill in consent forms, pregnancy questionnaires, and pre-registration forms. It is good practice to bring along your medical records during your scheduled procedure.

If you are undergoing contrast MRI along with MRCP, you must inform the technician if you have any known allergies or kidney dysfunction. Similarly, any itching, choking, or chest pain during the MRI after you have been injected with the dye needs to be informed as well.

The entire procedure is painless and you can go home the same day.


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Medically Reviewed on 10/5/2021
Cedars-Sinai. Magnetic Resonance Imaging Preparations - Abdomen with MRCP.