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Home > Patient & Family Resources > Health Library > Abdominal Ultrasound
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An abdominal ultrasound takes pictures of the organs and other structures in your upper belly. It uses sound waves to show images on a screen.
Areas that can be checked include the:
If your doctor needs more details about a specific organ in the upper part of your belly, you may get a special ultrasound, such as a kidney ultrasound. If you need the structures and organs in your lower belly checked, you will get a pelvic ultrasound.
Abdominal ultrasound is done to:
Tell your doctor if you have had a barium enema or upper GI (gastrointestinal) tests within the past 2 days. Barium that stays in the intestines can affect the results of the ultrasound.
You may need to prepare in other ways too. It depends on what test you are having. For example:
The test is done by a radiologist. This is a doctor who has special training to perform and interpret imaging tests. Sometimes an ultrasound technologist (sonographer) will do the test. In that case, a radiologist will supervise. The test is done in an ultrasound room in a hospital or doctor's office.
You may need to take off your jewelry. You may also need to take off all or most of your clothes. It depends on which area is being examined. You will be given a cloth or paper to cover yourself during the test.
You will lie on your back (or on your side) on a padded exam table. Warmed gel will be spread on your belly or back to help the sound waves work best. A small handheld device (transducer) is pressed against your belly.
You may be asked to change positions so more scans can be done. For a kidney ultrasound, you may be asked to lie on your stomach.
You need to lie very still while the test is being done. You may be asked to take a breath and hold it for several seconds during the test. This lets the person doing the test see organs and structures more clearly.
The test usually takes 30 to 60 minutes.
You may be asked to wait until the radiologist has reviewed the images. He or she may want to take more views of some areas of your belly.
The gel may feel cold when it is put on your skin. But the gel may be warmed to body temperature first. You will feel light pressure from the transducer as it passes over your belly. Most people do not feel pain during the test. But if the test is being done to check damage from a recent injury, the slight pressure of the transducer may be somewhat painful. You will not hear or feel the sound waves.
There are no known risks from having an abdominal ultrasound test.
The organs have a normal size, shape, and texture. No abnormal growths are seen. No fluid is in the belly.
The aorta looks normal. No aneurysms are seen.
The thickness of the gallbladder wall is normal. The size of the bile ducts is normal. No gallstones are seen.
No kidney stones are seen. The system that drains the kidneys is not blocked.
An organ looks abnormal. It may be smaller than normal. A growth may press against it or may be seen in an organ. Or fluid may be seen in the belly cavity. These things may be due to inflammation, infection, or other diseases.
The aorta is enlarged or an aneurysm is seen.
The liver looks abnormal. This may point to liver disease (such as cirrhosis or cancer).
The walls of the gallbladder are thickened, or fluid is found around the gallbladder. These may point to inflammation. The bile ducts may be enlarged. Or gallstones may be seen.
The kidneys or the ureters are enlarged because urine does not drain as it should. Kidney stones are seen. (But not all stones can be seen with ultrasound.)
An area of infection or a fluid-filled cyst is seen inside an organ. Or the spleen may be ruptured.
You may not be able to have the test, or the results may not be helpful, if:
Other Works Consulted
Fischbach FT, Dunning MB III, eds. (2009). Manual of Laboratory and Diagnostic Tests, 8th ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
Pagana KD, Pagana TJ (2010). Mosby's Manual of Diagnostic and Laboratory Tests, 4th ed. St. Louis: Mosby Elsevier.
Current as of: December 9, 2019
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: Kathleen Romito, MD - Family MedicineAdam Husney, MD - Family MedicineMartin J. Gabica, MD - Family MedicineHoward B. Schaff, MD - Diagnostic Radiology
Current as of: December 9, 2019
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine & Martin J. Gabica, MD - Family Medicine & Howard B. Schaff, MD - Diagnostic Radiology
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