An abdominal 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 the:
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.
Other preparations depend on the reason for the abdominal ultrasound test you are having.
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 jewellery 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 examination table. Warmed gel will be spread on your abdomen to improve the quality of the sound waves. A small hand-held unit called a transducer is pressed against your abdomen and moved back and forth over it. A picture of the organs and blood vessels can be seen on a video monitor.
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 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.
Unless the gel is first warmed to body temperature, it may feel cold when it is applied to your stomach. 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 test.
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 abdomen.
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 tumour) may be seen in an organ. Fluid in the abdominal cavity (ascites) may be seen.
The aorta is enlarged, or an aneurysm is seen.
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 gallbladder.
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).
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.
|Primary Medical Reviewer||Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine|
|Primary Medical Reviewer||Andrew Swan, MD, CCFP, FCFP - Family Medicine|
|Specialist Medical Reviewer||Howard Schaff, MD - Diagnostic Radiology|
|Last Revised||February 7, 2011|
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