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I have been getting Magnetic resonance (MR) enterography for about 4 years now every since I had explainable GI symptoms related to my Crohn’s disease. About 5 years ago, I switched to a new GI doctor after transitioning from pediatric care. At the time, my doctor decided to do a full set of tests and to her surprise she found no active disease anywhere, but I was still experiencing symptoms. So, that was when my doctor decided to send me for an MRE (a form of MRI). With this test, we were able to see the entire large and small intestine and found my problem area in the ilium. Without this test I would have never found this problem because a colonoscopy and endoscopy do not reach this point in the intestine. So, over the years I have had a few of these tests and after sharing this with you on my Instagram, you guys highly requested that I speak about my experience and why I get this test done.
What is an MRE?
An MRE is a Magnetic Resonance Enterography which is a form of MRI. This is an imaging test which produces detailed pictures of the small intestine. Which is helpful in discovering any inflammation, bleeding, obstructions and other problems in the small intestine. The exam uses a magnetic field to create detailed images of your organs. Before the exam, oral and intravenous medication is given to highlight the small intestine. A drug is typically also administered to decrease movement of the bowel to allow for clearer images.
Why I get an MRE vs. a colonoscopy?
As I mentioned, in the time leading up to my surgery in July 2018, I had severe inflammation and a stricture in the end of my small intestine in the ilium. At the time I had no active disease elsewhere. So, doing a colonoscopy or endoscopy was not very useful for my condition at the time because the scope does not reach that point of the intestine. This type of test is very helpful if you are having any unexplained GI problems that your doctor cannot see with other forms of procedures such as a colonoscopy. A colonoscopy still offers a lot of benefit because the doctor is able to see physically inside of your intestine and also take biopsies of your intestines. However, this test was really useful for me at the time because all of my disease was in my small intestine.
Prep for an MRE is very simple and smooth in comparison to a colonoscopy. Every hospital is different, but for myself I am not able to eat or drink 4 hours before the procedure. Mine are typically scheduled in the morning so I don’t eat anything that morning and I am good to go. An MRE is different from a typical MRI because there is some prep that you need to do in hospital before the MRI and there is also IV medication that is administered for getting clear images. One thing you want to make sure you do for prep is to wear clothing with no metal in it. If you wear lose clothing with no metal you will not need to change into a hospital gown which makes your experience overall so much better.
Once, I arrive for my appointment in hospital I am given 3 contrast dye drinks 20 minutes apart to help highlight the small intestine. So, be prepared to be in the hospital for a minimum of 2-3 hours when you go for this procedure. Once I have the three drinks I then get an IV administered for the procedure. The IV is used to administer contrast dye mid-way through the procedure to help with certain images. So, in total prep before your procedure is usually about an hour in hospital as long as everything is on time.
Once you have had all the drinks and are set up with your IV you will be put into the MRI machine. Depending on your hospital you will either be put in head first or feet first (I have done both). I am not a claustrophobic person, but the first time I was in this machine I was very anxious. So, if you are a claustrophobic person I would highly recommend getting an anxiety medication prescribed for this procedure. Otherwise, I would suggest asking for a towel over your eyes in the machine. This will stop you from looking around and help with anxiety.
Before being put in the machine, they strap you in with a few belts over your chest. They give you a squeeze ball in one of your hands if you ever need to get out of the machine, and they also put a headset on your ears to protect you from the loud noise. Once you are all strapped in they slide you into the machine and get started.
For this procedure there is a series of breathing exercises that you need to do. You will need to hold your breath quite a few times throughout the procedure to ensure you are not moving for the images. Something that really helps me when I am in the machine is to think of things going on outside of the machine. I try to think of what my mom is doing or my friend is doing at this exact moment, or I will think about a past or future happy events. It is a good idea to try to distract your mind to help calm you in the machine.
Half way through they will release the dye through the IV. This will feel very cold in your arm, but does not hurt. The procedure in total is typically about 20-30 minutes.
What to expect post-procedure?
After the imaging is completed there are a few things that you can expect. First of all, expect to have diarrhea. The contrast dye will cause you to have diarrhea after the procedure. Some times I have had urgency right after the procedure, and a few times it has been a few hours later. Regardless, be sure to have a bathroom nearby after the procedure. Second, you may experience side effects from the IV dye medication. I personally get blurry vision and dry mouth after the procedure for about 15 minutes. This is normal and goes away, but it is important to know so that you can plan for someone to drive you. You may or may not experience blurry vision, but I would air on the side of caution and get a ride for the first time you have an MRE. Otherwise, post-procedure is fairly smooth and easy.
Overall, this is everything I can share with you regarding MRE’s, what they are used for and what to expect. I hope that you found this helpful and that you learned of a new imaging technique that you can use to help with your Crohn’s or Colitis. If you enjoyed this post, you may also like the post I did on my top 6 tips for stomach bloating and stomach distention.
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Your trusty, gutsy gal,