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Why Small Bowel MRIs are the Absolute WORST

Two weeks ago, I found myself laying on my belly, holding my breath on autocue whilst 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.

It’s not as bad as a colonoscopy you might say. Well, yes, I must admit that it does have one distinct advantage: nobody is inserting anything into your anus. But, with that as an exception,  a small bowel MRI is still absolutely awful…

The prep

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

‘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 ten 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 afterwards. 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 afterwards. Meanwhile my husband waited on me hand and foot after the procedure and I needed to be propped up just walking to the car.

The 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

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. Which 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…

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Huya
    5 months ago

    This is so true.
    Mannitol solution is definitely not a ‘weak laxative’ as my appointment letter stated. It’s the complete opposite and caused explosive diarrhoea plus ongoing abdominal muscular pain – never again.
    There must be a safer alternative?

  • thedancingcrohnie moderator
    5 months ago

    I agree. It’s horrific and there has to be another way!

    Always dancing,
    Elizabeth (team member)

  • thedancingcrohnie moderator
    10 months ago

    Thank you for writing this! MRI’s are no fun!!

    I had the worst experience once, I literally had to stop in the middle and run out of the room. I am claustrophobic and after drinking the “poison” lol, I was so sick. I literally almost fainted on my way home. Not a fun experience.

    Always dancing,
    Elizabeth (team member)

  • emj41983
    2 years ago

    Yes! You read my mind; almost word for word how my experience was. Thank you for a fantastic post.

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