MRI Enterography: What to Expect and How to Prepare

April 20, 2017 by mmb4na@virginia.edu   |   Leave a Comment

MRI Enterography (or MRE) is an exam that helps your doctor see your small intestines. Your small intestines process slowly, so you have to spend a chunk of time preparing and getting your body ready for the exam.


What to Know Ahead of Time

The most important thing to keep in mind is that you shouldn’t eat any solid food or drink any liquids at least 4 hours prior to your scheduled arrival time. You can make an exception if you need water to take a medication. Just make sure you don’t drink more than 8 ounces.

You need to arrive 2.5 hours before the actual MRI Enterography exam in order to drink an oral contrast called VoLumen. MRI staff will begin giving you this oral contrast in 30-minute intervals. As you drink, you may feel full and have to go to the bathroom. Don’t worry, this is normal.

An adult will drink 4 bottles of oral contrast while a child will drink an amount based on their weight. Once you drink it, the VoLumen will move through your small intestines, helping your radiologist see and assess any issues.

A grey graphic with bottles numbered 1-4

More Contrast

Towards the end of your oral dosing, an MRI staff member will take you to get an IV. Nobody enjoys needles, but you need the IV for another form of contrast. You won’t receive the new contrast until the start of the actual exam. This IV contrast allows the radiologist to view the vessels in your abdomen that are connected to your intestines.

You will likely feel cool when the contrast is injected into you. This may be accompanied by a metallic taste in your mouth.

An IV bag

Final Preparations

Next, you’ll get onto the exam table and lie flat on your back. In preparation for the MRI Enterography, a technologist will put a pillow under your head and a cushion under your knees. Then, they will give you a pair of headphones to wear during the exam. These will allow the tech to speak to you, even while the MRI is in progress. The headphones will also block the noise from the scanner.

Don’t be alarmed when the technologist places two gray rectangular pieces on your belly. These help them obtain the best pictures for your radiologist to study. Finally, your tech will also give you a small squeeze-ball to hold. If you squeeze this ball during the MRI Enterography, it will make a loud sound, alerting the technologist. As soon as they hear it, they will either talk to you through the headphones or come into the room to speak to you.

UVA Radiologist Talking into Microphone

Time for the Exam

When it is time for your exam to begin, all the staff will leave the room. But you won’t be alone; the nurses and technologist will be watching over you through a window in the exam room. During the exam, the technologist will take a few sets of pictures. For some of them, you will have to hold your breath.

After the first set of pictures, the technologist will let the radiologist look at the images to make sure you have enough of the oral contrast in your intestines. If you don’t, they may ask you to drink more contrast. It’s possible you may even have to walk around to help move the contrast through your intestines.

Once the radiologist has confirmed that you have enough contrast in your intestines, the nurse will come in the scanner room and give you one final injection in your arm. The injected compound is called Glucagon. Your intestines are constantly moving and pushing waste through, and this injection slows them down temporarily to help the MRI capture a clear image. Glucagon might make you feel a bit nauseated at first. But the feeling generally goes away after a few minutes.

As the MRI technologist takes the pictures, they will check in with you often to make sure you are OK as the exam continues. The total time you will be on the table for your MRI Enterography will be 45 minutes to an hour.

Clockface

Coming to a Close

When the technologist has taken all the pictures they need, an MRI staff member will take the IV out. You might feel full or a bit nauseated for several hours after the exam. This is normal and you shouldn’t be concerned. If for some reason these symptoms don’t go away by the next day, you should follow up with your doctor.

A radiologist who specializes in imaging of the abdomen will look at your scans, identify any problems, and then send everything to your referring physician. To view your results, you should check with your doctor a day or two after your exam. We hope this helps you prepare for your exam and feel confident about what to expect.

Written by Jamie Weathersbee, Chief Technologist in the MRI department at the University of Virginia Medical Center.

 

Comments (50)

  1. sandy says:

    Wow, This what i’m looking don’t know how to prepare myself for MRI. Thanks for this post

  2. Susan McDonaldSu says:

    Great expaination! Thank you…

    1. adg5bb@virginia.edu says:

      Glad you found it helpful!

  3. Laura says:

    can you drive a car or do you need someone to take you home?

    1. adg5bb@virginia.edu says:

      You can do everything as normal after an Enterography. There are no special precautions necessary after this exam.

  4. SANDRA AUSTIN says:

    is the volumen nasty tasting?

    1. adg5bb@virginia.edu says:

      Volumen isn’t the tastiest thing in the world, but you’ll have the option to add a flavor. Something like fruit punch, raspberry, or lemonade.

  5. Rose says:

    If you’ve had an MRI with contrast you drink & after the test have to drink A Lot of water – is that MRI basically the same test as this MRI Enterogrophy?

    1. adg5bb@virginia.edu says:

      No, water is different than the oral contrast. Hope this helps.

  6. Mana says:

    Thanks for the explanations… It helped me a lot … My Mom needs to undergo an MRE, and we didn’t know what it would be like. Thanks again, and best wishes

    1. adg5bb@virginia.edu says:

      Mana,

      You’re welcome. Very glad to hear this was helpful! Wishing you and your mother the very best with her MRE and follow up.

      Best wishes,
      UVA Radiology

  7. Sarah says:

    Thank you for writing this explanation so clearly. I am getting an MRE next week, and if I don’t know what to expect about medical procedures I tend to get anxious. I feel much better now. Thanks again.

    1. adg5bb@virginia.edu says:

      Sarah,

      Glad to hear this article was useful for relieving your anxiety. That is our goal, because we know medical exams can be confusing and frightening when you do not know what to expect. If you have other questions about radiology or our exams, feel free to take a look at our new radiology patient information resource: https://blog.radiology.virginia.edu/

      Wishing you all the best with your MRE,
      UVA Radiology

  8. Carla says:

    I had this done, and preparing for my second one several years later needed a refresher. This is very accurate and very helpful. It corresponds to my original experience. I had forgotten the nausea and was glad to be reminded of it. Thank you

    1. adg5bb@virginia.edu says:

      Carla,

      Glad to hear you found the information helpful! Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts and feedback.

      Best,
      UVA Radiology

  9. Greg says:

    Great article, thanks for the writeup! I’ve never had a MRE so I’m assuming this is very similar to a typical MRI. Do you have any tips for staying calm and collected as you get moved into this tighter space? I didn’t see any description of this part of the experience (getting moved into the tighter space, etc). Thank you.

    1. adg5bb@virginia.edu says:

      Greg,

      Thanks for taking the time to read through this and leave your thoughts. Yes, this exam is similar to a normal MRI in many ways. We actually put together a piece on “10 Tips for Reducing MRI Claustrophobia” on our patient information resource. You can read the article here: https://blog.radiology.virginia.edu/reducing-mri-claustrophobia/

      Hope this helps!

      Sincerely,
      UVA Radiology

  10. Sandy says:

    Thanks so much for this informative detailed info. Having no idea wht this test was abt, it has put me at ease knowing exactly what to expect. Thank you!! Sandy

    1. adg5bb@virginia.edu says:

      Sandy,

      Glad you found the information helpful! Wishing you all the best with your exam.

      Sincerely,
      UVA Radiology

  11. S Anderson says:

    Just had one of these done yesterday. Very accurate description of what happens. The only difference was my doctor required me to take a stool softener at noon the day prior.

    1. adg5bb@virginia.edu says:

      Thank you for the feedback. As you described, there may be slight variations to the exam depending on where it takes place, but we are glad to hear you found the overall information accurate and useful.

      Sincerely,
      UVA Radiology

  12. Matt says:

    Thank you for describing the imaging test. I have had Crohn’s 4 years, and my 1st MRE will be Wednesday. They wanted to do one in the past, but I also have moderate-severe CP so laying still in that kind of environment for up to an hour is impossible. But I finally figured what the heck. If it works, it works; if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. I’ve had numerous CTs without any problems

  13. Charles says:

    Thank you for this incredible explanation of an MRE One quick question, do you go in the tube “feet first”? Thanks in advance. Be well everybody

    1. bs9ey@virginia.edu says:

      Thanks so much, Charles. I can’t speak for other care locations, but here at UVA Radiology patients can go in either feet first or head first. Thanks so much for your question!

      Sincerely,
      UVA Radiology

  14. Cindy Roberts says:

    Is the IV contrast gadolinium or similar? That’s potentially dangerous stuff.

    1. bs9ey@virginia.edu says:

      Hi Cindy,

      Yes, the IV contrast used is usually gadolinium. While allergic reactions to gadolinium are possible, they are much rarer than allergic reactions to the iodine-based contrast used for CT scans, for example. Some recent studies have show that small amounts of gadolinium may be retained in the body after it’s administered, but there are no known negative effects from this. There are multiple gadolinium-based contrast agents that can be used for an MRI; as always, speak with your care provider if you have concerns about contrast or about choosing the best contrast agent for you and for the body part being imaged.

      Thanks for your comment,
      UVA Radiology

  15. Dale says:

    Can they put anti-nausea medication in the IV? I have terrible times with nausea..

    1. bs9ey@virginia.edu says:

      Hi Dale,

      Thank you so much for reading and for your question. Pre-medication with steroids and/or Benadryl is typically recommended for patients who have previously had moderate reactions to contrast of a similar class to the one they will be given. Moderate reactions include hives, swelling, itchiness or problems breathing. As always, speak to your care provider about the exam you will be having, the contrast agent used, and any previous reactions you have had to that contrast agent.

      Sincerely,
      UVA Radiology

  16. It seems that you left out the part where you are running to the bathroom and some people don’t make it. I had 3 accidents in the waiting room. For me it was like a colonoscopy prep with occupied bathrooms. Why can’t this prep be done at home?

  17. Mariann says:

    1. What part can I rush to the bathroom and don’t make it?
    2. Should I receive an injection of Glucagon if Im a diabetic?
    If not, what are the alternatives?

    1. bs9ey@virginia.edu says:

      Hi Mariann,

      Thank you so much for your questions. Taking Glucagon for the MRI Enterography as a diabetic is not a problem unless you are uncomfortable receiving it. Our technologists will check your blood sugar after the procedure, if needed.

      Sincerely,
      UVA Radiology

  18. Karen says:

    Please be prepared to have diarrhea. Mine started even before the test began. Afterward, I rushed home and proceeded to have diarrhea for the next several hours. You may want to stay at the facility where you had the exam for an hour or two to ensure all is clear. Be sure to have a snack within 45 minutes of the end of the test…you need this to help bring your glucose levels back into balance. Be sure to drink lots of water after the exam to restore your hydration.

  19. Lora says:

    I am in a flare state of Crohn’s currently, having bouts of fecal incontinence. How is incontinence dealt with during the procedure? Thank you for a thorough explanation of what one can anticipate.

    1. bs9ey@virginia.edu says:

      Hi Lora,

      Thank you so much for your comment. Our team would still have you attempt to drink as much as the oral contrast as possible and then attempt the procedure. Only if a patient is fully unable to tolerate the oral contrast would the exam likely be cancelled and the attending Radiologist consulted.

      Sincerely,
      UVA Radiology

  20. I like how you specified that before getting an MRI you can’t eat any solid foods or drink any liquids about 4 hours beforehand. This is actually helpful to know because people that need to get an MRI might not know this and it can prolong the process. Thanks for looking out for people and sharing this information about MRIs.

  21. Eli Richardson says:

    We appreciate the experience one will go through the MRI scanning, especially through the noises and the devices. One of my aunts is having her first MRI scanning, and she is concerned about what will happen. I will let her know so she can be prepared for the process.

  22. Jimmy says:

    This was a thousand times more useful than the almost-nonexistent info. I got from the MRI center–at a major urban hospital–where I had this done. Echoing the other commenters to say: Prepare for sudden diarrhea afterward. That Volumen is a *lot*, especially on Crohn’s-afflicted guts. On the plus side, I found it easy to drink. Another plus: this procedure exposes you to no X-ray radiation, unlike the terrible small-bowel follow-throughs of olde.

    1. kb6m@virginia.edu says:

      Thanks for your reply and glad you found this helpful! Yes the oral contrast can cause diarrhea but we have switched our oral contrast to Citra Select which patients have reported it to be much easier to drink! Thank you for your kind words about our site, Jimmy!

  23. Lori says:

    What is the part that makes you nauseous? Gadolidium, glucogon or the drink?

    1. kb6m@virginia.edu says:

      Potentially all three could make you feel nauseous but it effect each patient differently. Gadolidium would make you feel sick if you were to have an allergic reaction to the contrast. Glucagon is given to help prevent the stomach and bowels from empting for a short period of time greatly improving the quality of the exam but can result in feeling full and/or nauseous. Lastly, the oral contrast can make your stomach very full causing the feeling of nausea. We hope you find this information helpful!

  24. Jeanette says:

    Can you have this test if you have metal plates in one of the legs?

  25. Devon Noelle says:

    My MRI place is requiring me to eat no solid foods after 2pm the day before and also purge my intestines by drinking 8oz of Miralax mixed into 64oz of Gatorade – 8 oz every 15 minutes. I have an option instead of Gatorade/Miralax purge to give myself enemas the morning of the procedure too. ugh.
    Is this prep usual. It is necessary? I’ve had colonoscopies before & would rather have that because at least I’ll be asleep & not going diarrhea (from the 4 bottles of prep I will need to drink) in a public place where I may not have access to the toilet all the time. My gastro thinks this test is better but I don’t know why. I am so anxious about being stuck inside a tube & nauseated & trying to hold in liquid diarrhea that I cannot bring myself to make an appointment.

    1. kb6m@virginia.edu says:

      Our prep for MRE scans is to have you NPO for 4 hours prior to the appointment time. This helps with not only dosing but making sure your stomach is empty for excellent images! You’re never stuck in the machine, we provide you with an emergency call bell which alerts us if you would feel claustrophobic, sick, or needing to use the restroom. While we would prefer you not to have to move from the scan table during the exam, we know that sometimes it can’t be prevented and we can accommodate that!

  26. Patty Marcey says:

    I have an internal “J-Pouch”. Will my prep he the same?

    1. kb6m@virginia.edu says:

      While we ask that all patients complete all 4 bottles for their studies, exceptions have been made for those who’ve had surgeries such as a J-Pouch or an ostomy pouch. It would be a discussion we would have with the Radiologist as to if you would need to drink the 4 bottles or less the day of your scan. Hope this information helps.

  27. Robin Mumford says:

    Can I wear something like Depends during the MRE?

    1. kb6m@virginia.edu says:

      Yes, you could wear Depends during the MRE if it would make you feel more comfortable but is not required. We provide you with an emergency call bell during that exam which alerts us if you would need a restroom break! Taking breaks during the exam can cause the scan time to increase but sometimes it can be necessary to help complete the exam.

  28. Emily says:

    I just had an mr enterography this am and my stomach is gurgling so much and I had diarrhea. Hoping it goes away soon . Was not informed by the techs or nurse I might need to look out for side effects .

  29. Deborah Hall says:

    I just had this test done a week ago. Wear depends and bring wet wipes,extra depends and a change of clothes. I finished the test but had horrific diarrhea immediately afterward. I did not make it five feet to the restroom. This lasted about three hours. Don’t mean to scare anyone away from having the test. I just wish I would have known and been more prepared.

  30. Catherine says:

    Had my first MR Enterography today and if it weren’t for the comments here I would’ve been massively unprepared and terrified and probably wouldn’t have been able to finish the scan. Thank you all for sharing your experiences and helping me! And I will also attest to the extreme diarrhea. I was able to hold it through the scan but the rest of the day was explosive and painful for like, 6 hours. This has to be the worst test of my Crohn’s career so far.

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