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Home > Wellness Resources > Health Library > Abdominal Ultrasound
ultrasound uses reflected sound waves to produce a
picture of the organs and other structures in the upper abdomen. Sometimes a
specialized ultrasound is ordered for a detailed evaluation of a specific
organ, such as a kidney ultrasound. An abdominal ultrasound can evaluate
A pelvic ultrasound evaluates the structures and organs in
the lower abdominal area (pelvis).
Abdominal ultrasound is done to:
Tell your doctor if you have had a
barium enema or a series of upper GI
(gastrointestinal) tests within the past 2 days. Barium that remains in the
intestines can interfere with the ultrasound test.
preparations depend on the reason for the abdominal ultrasound test you are
This test is done by a doctor who
specializes in performing and interpreting imaging tests (radiologist) or
by an ultrasound technologist (sonographer) who is supervised by a radiologist.
It is done in an ultrasound room in a hospital or doctor's office.
You will need to take off any jewelry that might interfere with the
ultrasound scan. You will need to take off all or most of your clothes,
depending on which area is examined (you may be allowed to keep on your
underwear if it does not interfere with the test). You will be given a cloth or
paper covering to use 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
abdomen (or back) to improve the quality of the sound waves. A small handheld unit
called a transducer is pressed against your abdomen.
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
You need to lie very still while the ultrasound scan is
being done. You may be asked to take a breath and hold it for several seconds
during the scanning. This lets the sonographer see organs and structures, such
as the bile ducts, more clearly because they are not moving. Holding your
breath also temporarily pushes the liver and spleen lower into the belly so
they are not hidden by the lower ribs, which makes it harder for the
sonographer to see them clearly.
Abdominal ultrasound usually
takes 30 to 60 minutes.
You may be asked to wait until the radiologist has
reviewed the information. The radiologist may want to do more ultrasound views
of some areas of your abdomen.
The gel may feel cold when it is put on
your skin unless it is first warmed to body temperature. You will feel
light pressure from the transducer as it passes over your abdomen. The
ultrasound usually is not uncomfortable. 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 uses reflected sound waves to produce a
picture of the organs and other structures in the abdomen.
The size and shape of the
abdominal organs appear normal. The liver, spleen, and pancreas appear normal
in size and texture. No abnormal growths are seen. No fluid is found in the
The diameter of the aorta is
normal, and no
aneurysms are seen.
The thickness of the
gallbladder wall is normal. The size of the bile ducts between the gallbladder
and the small intestine is normal. No
gallstones are seen.
The kidneys appear as sharply outlined
bean-shaped organs. No
kidney stones are seen. No blockage to the system
draining the kidneys is present.
An organ may appear abnormal because of
inflammation, infection, or other diseases. An organ may be smaller than normal
because of an old injury or past inflammation. An organ may be pushed out of
its normal location because of an abnormal growth pressing against it. An
abnormal growth (such as a tumor) may be seen in an organ. Fluid in the
abdominal cavity (ascites) may be seen.
The aorta is enlarged, or an aneurysm is
The liver may appear abnormal, which may
point to liver disease (such as
cirrhosis or cancer).
The walls of the gallbladder may be
thickened, or fluid may be present around the gallbladder, which may point to
inflammation. The bile ducts may be enlarged because of blockage (from a
gallstone or an abnormal growth in the pancreas). Gallstones may be seen inside
The kidneys or the tubes that drain the
kidneys (ureters) may be enlarged because of urine that is not
draining properly. Kidney stones are seen within the kidneys (not all stones
can be seen with ultrasound).
An area of infection (abscess) or a fluid-filled
cyst may appear as a round, hollow structure inside an
organ. The spleen may be ruptured (if an injury to the abdomen has
Reasons you may not be able to
have the test or why the results may not be helpful include:
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:
November 29, 2012
Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & Howard Schaff, MD - Diagnostic Radiology
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