PURPOSE: To compare the value of 'push-button' single-shot non-contrast-enhanced MRI and contrast-enhanced helical CT for detection of upper abdominal disease. METHODS: In 120 patients, images obtained with non contrast-enhanced single-shot MRI (T2: double echo HASTE, and T1: turbo FLASH) and contrast-enhanced helical CT were compared. Lesions or abnormalities were divided in 8 anatomical categories (1: liver; 2: pancreatobiliary; 3: kidney/adrenal gland; 4: retroperitoneum; 5: vascular; 6: spleen; 7: gastrointestinal tract and peritoneum; 8: base of thorax) and classified as follows: 2: seen at MRI only; 1: better seen at MRI; 0: no difference; -1: better seen at CT; -2: seen at CT only. Also recorded were the 'door-to-door' examination times. RESULTS: Of a total of 629 abnormalities, 594 were detected at MRI (94 %) and 536 at CT (85 %). CT offered better results in two categories only: retroperitoneum (mean score: -0.68) and vascular (mean score -0.87). Mean examination times were 19 min for CT and 14.8 min for MRI. CONCLUSION: Unenhanced single-shot MRI is a valuable first step of a comprehensive upper abdominal MR exam and may even be the final step in many patients.