Magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP)

A magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP) scan is a specialised type of MRI scan that takes detailed pictures of your child’s abdomen, gall bladder, bile ducts and pancreatic duct.

An MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan uses a magnetic field rather than x-rays to take pictures of your child’s body. The MRI scanner is a hollow machine with a tube running horizontally through its middle. Your child will lie on a bed that slides into the tube.

A magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP) scan is often used to look for gallstones, narrowing or blockage of the ducts or understand why the pancreas is inflamed (pancreatitis). It can also be used to identify possible reasons for abdominal pain. An MRCP scan usually lasts between 20 minutes and an hour.

Please watch our short video about having an MRI. If you would like further advice about preparing your child for the scan, please ring the department’s play specialist on the number at the end of this information sheet.

Are there any alternatives?

The main alternative to an MRCP scan is a procedure called an endoscope retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) although these are not currently carried out at GOSH. An ERCP involves passing an endoscope (a thin, flexible tube with a bright light and camera at the end) down the throat and through the stomach to the duodenum (first part of the small intestine). The endoscope is used to insert a thin, plastic tube into the bile duct or pancreatic duct so that contrast (a liquid that shows up well on imaging scans) can be inserted. A series of x-rays are taken while the contrast flows through the ducts.

Various other types of scan such as CT, ultrasound and x-rays can show the size and shape of parts of your child’s body but not in as much detail as an MRCP scan. The information from the scan is then used to help with diagnosis and plan their treatment.

When you receive your appointment letter

If you are unable to keep this appointment, please inform the department as soon as possible beforehand. Sometimes, we can offer the appointment to another child on the waiting list.

Before the appointment

Your child will need to stop eating six hours before the scheduled scan time but they can continue to drink clear fluids, such as water or weak squash. Please follow these fasting instructions, otherwise your child’s scan may be delayed or even cancelled.

The day of the scan

Your child should wear clothes without zips or metal poppers for the scan – otherwise they will need to change into a gown.

Before the scan starts, the nurse or radiographer will check your child does not have a pacemaker, metal implants or clips, dental braces, a history of metal fragments in the eyes or any allergies. We will ask you to sign a form to confirm this.

If your daughter is 12 years old or older, we will ask her about her periods and any possibility she could be pregnant.

The scan

Your child will need to lie on the bed for the scan. The radiographer will rest a coil over their abdomen – this helps sharpen up the MRI images. They may also have an injection of contrast to further improve the images.

When your child is in the correct position, the radiographer will move the bed inside the scanner and then go into the control room. When the scan has finished, the radiographer will move the bed out of the scanner.

After the scan

Unless your child has any other appointments, you will be able to go home. The radiologist (doctor specialising in scans) will send a report of the scan to your child’s doctor in time for their next appointment. If you have not been given a follow up appointment to see your consultant, please contact their secretary after two weeks.

Are there any risks?

There are no risks associated with MRI scans. They are painless and generally quick with no lasting effects. The scanner does not touch your child during the scan. MRI scans are not suitable for people with certain metal implants inside them (such as pacemakers) because the scanner emits a strong magnetic field. This is why we carry out a thorough metal check before your child has the scan. 

Compiled by: 
The Radiology department in collaboration with the Child and Family Information Group This information does not constitute health or medical advice and will not necessarily reflect treatment at other hospitals.
Last review date: 
August 2013


Please note this is a generic GOSH information sheet. If you have specific questions about how this relates to your child, please ask your doctor. Please note this information may not necessarily reflect treatment at other hospitals.