Why Small Bowel MRIs are the Absolute WORST
Last updated: June 2023
Two weeks ago, I found myself laying on my belly, holding my breath on autocue while desperately wondering how long I could hold off dashing to the nearest bathroom.
What on earth was I doing on you might ask? Well, if you already have Crohn's, you'll know exactly what I was doing: I was undergoing the stomach-churning, humiliating procedure which is a small bowel MRI. And I hated every second of it.
But, with that as an exception, a small bowel MRI is still absolutely awful...
The prep for a small bowel MRI
With all the new technology we have in the world, why on earth haven't we invented something better than the MRI prep? Yes, you might not have to drink as much of it as you do colonoscopy prep, but this has the distinct disadvantage of having to drink it at the hospital with no TV to distract you and no toilet close at hand.
What's more, this time I was treated in a general MRI area where, of the people sitting awaiting the scan, I was one of only two forcing myself to swallow this disgusting drink. There were even some patients there who were having small bowel MRIs but still didn't have to drink it – is this just a Crohn's thing?
The side effects of MRI prep
"May have a slight laxative effect but will soon pass" said the cheery-sounding official hospital letter I received. Clearly, the person who wrote it did not have inflammatory bowel disease and was not aware of the actual definition of "slight."
"Slight" is not how I would describe the laxative effect of this liquid. I had been to the toilet approximately 10 times before my name was called for the actual procedure, many of which were near misses. "Will soon pass" was also an underestimation, there was no chance of me doing any work for the rest of the day.
This is my second MRI and I am always surprised at how awful I feel afterward. Is this just me? The lady next to me (the only other one drinking the mixture) was not the kindred spirit I had hoped for. She didn't use the toilet once and declared she was fine to drive herself home afterward. Meanwhile, my husband waited on me hand and foot after the procedure and I needed to be propped up just walking to the car.
Small bowel MRI procedure
"Do let me know if you need to go to the toilet," muttered the lady kindly, after seeing how queasy I looked. However, given that you're strapped in and shoved inside a tunnel, I suspect that is easier said than done. So I tried my best to survive the experience without having to pause the procedure. But my goodness, it's annoying.
I'd heard experiences of selecting your choice of music in state of the art facilities. In the NHS of England, I was in a mobile MRI unit and can still hear the drilling sound in my ears today, as I clung for dear life to the foam pads.
Am I the only one who panics when asked to hold my breath at will? "What if I let it out too soon?" I think panicked! You're putting me inside a noisy, claustrophobic tunnel and telling me NOT TO BREATH. What kind of madness is this?
The wait for MRI results
Unlike colonoscopies, where you can watch in real-time should you desire it (not that I ever have), an MRI also causes a long wait in most cases. The images aren't clear cut and need a specialist to examine them. This means whilst the worst might be over, the wait is just as bad. In the case of mine, it's been two weeks and waiting.
So yes, colonoscopies, I used to curse you and couldn't imagine anything worse. But at least you were straight to the point, and allowed me the joy of unlimited bathroom access and didn't cause my ears to ring. It's going to take some topping to beat my MRI small bowel experience as the worst I've experienced yet...
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