An x-ray is the simplest kind of image that your doctor can order. It can look for a blockage in the bowel, perforation/tear and how much stool is in your colon. For patients with Crohn’s disease, x-rays can also locate ulcers, strictures, and fistulae. There is a very small amount of radiation in each x-ray.
Ultrasonography uses sound waves to take pictures of your body. In IBD, you may have an ultrasound to look at your liver and gall bladder, your bladder and possibly part of your intestines. There is no radiation involved. A small probe is placed on your body with gel to take the pictures.
Upper GI Series
An upper GI series uses x-ray technology to examine the upper gastrointestinal tract, which includes the esophagus, stomach, and beginning of the small intestine (called the duodenum). The patient swallows a liquid, such as barium or another water-soluble contrast, which appears white on x-rays and allows the doctor to have better visualization of the upper GI tract.
Barium enemas are similar to upper GI series, but the barium is injected into the rectum instead of given orally. This x-ray produces clear visuals of the large intestine (colon).
CT scans (or CAT scans) are tests that use radiation to take more detailed pictures of your abdomen than x-rays. These scans produce 360 degree images of soft tissues, bones, and organs. Most of the time, you will drink a liquid (called “contrast”) and receive a different liquid (another kind of contrast) through a vein. Our radiologists at MGHfC use special equipment so that the radiation dose is lower than the national average.
CT enterography (or CTE) is a special kind of CT scan that creates better pictures of the small intestine than a standard CT. It also allows the doctors to visualize other areas in the abdomen and pelvis. For this test, you will also need to drink contrast and receive contrast through a vein. The radiation involved in a CTE is about the same as our standard CT scan.
MRIs also provide detailed pictures of your abdomen but without radiation. An MR enterography (or MRE) is an alternative to a CTE. You need to drink contrast and get contrast through a vein. MRE studies take longer than CTEs and offer different information to your gastroenterologist than a CTE. They may take up to 1 hour, and you need to stay relatively still during this test.
A magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatogram (MRCP) is a specialized MRI that looks at the gall bladder, liver and the channels that drain the liver and pancreas. There is nothing to drink, but contrast is given through a vein.