Diagnosing GI Disorders: Imaging

Various imaging studies such as fluoroscopy (X-ray), CT, MRI, ultrasound and nuclear medicine may be used to diagnose disorders and diseases of the digestive tract. Gastrointestinal (GI) radiology involves imaging to screen the GI tract for various disorders and to check the GI tract following treatment (especially surgery) for a wide range of disorders.

Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin have the best equipped facilities in the region to accurately diagnose problems of the digestive system, including Medical College of Wisconsin GI radiologists who focus solely on imaging the digestive tract. This is an advantage not found at other health care facilities. 

Imaging of the digestive tract includes:

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which uses a strong magnetic field and radio frequency waves to produce detailed images of organs and structures inside the body. An MRI may be used to examine the liver, pancreas and other organs. It can assess blood flow and detect many types of cancer.

  • Magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP), which uses MRI to assess the biliary tract (bile duct, pancreatic duct and gallbladder) for tumors, stones and strictures (narrowed ducts).

  • Cholangiography, an X-ray examination of the bile ducts. A dye is given orally or injected intravenously or through the skin by inserting a thin needle into a bile duct. After the dye is given, the bile duct system is outlined on X-rays.

  • Computed tomography (CT), which uses X-rays to create cross-sectional pictures of the body. In the GI tract, CT may be used to detect suspected cancer, determine the stage of a known cancer, detect obstruction and perforation in the bowel, or look for causes of abdominal pain. If a tumor is suspected in the pancreas, a specialized CT scan may be done to provide a high-definition image of the pancreas.

  • CT colonography, which is also called virtual colonoscopy, uses low dose radiation CT scanning to view the interior of the colon (the large intestine). The interior of the colon is otherwise only viewed with a more invasive procedure where an endoscope is inserted into the rectum and passed through the entire colon.

  • Fluoroscopy, a moving X-ray picture of internal organs that makes it possible to see internal organs in motion. A fluoroscopic exam of the digestive tract may include:
    • An upper GI exam to detect tumors, ulcers, hernias, blockages, scarring or inflammation in the esophagus, stomach and first part of the small intestine (duodenum)

    • A lower GI exam to detect abnormalities of the large intestine (colon) such as polyps, cancer, ulcers and other diseases of the colon.
  • Nuclear medicine, which shows the structure and function of parts of the body. A safe amount of a radioactive substance (tracer) is given to a patient, and the tracer attaches to or is absorbed by tissues in the body. Certain tracers accumulate more in certain organs. In the digestive system, nuclear medicine may be used to detect bleeding, inflammatory bowel disease, stomach emptying and esophageal movement.

Appointments

For gastroenterology or hepatology treatment:

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