DefinitionAbdominal ultrasound is an imaging procedure used to examine the internal organs of the abdomen, including the liver, gallbladder, spleen, pancreas, and kidneys. The blood vessels that lead to some of these organs can also be looked at with ultrasound.
Alternative NamesUltrasound - abdomen; Abdominal sonogram
How the test is performedAn ultrasound machine creates images that allow various organs in the body to be examined. The machine sends out high-frequency sound waves, which reflect off body structures to create a picture. A computer receives these reflected waves and uses them to create a picture. Unlike with x-rays or CT scans, there is no ionizing radiation exposure with this test.You will be lying down for the procedure. A clear, water-based conducting gel is applied to the skin over the abdomen. This helps with the transmission of the sound waves. A handheld probe called a transducer is then moved over the abdomen.You may be asked to change position so that the health care provider can examine different areas. You may also be asked to hold your breath for short periods of time during the examination.The procedure usually takes less than 30 minutes.
How to prepare for the testPreparation for the procedure depends on the nature of the problem and your age. Usually patients are asked to not eat or drink for several hours before the examination. Your health care provider will advise you about specific preparation.
How the test will feelThere is little discomfort. The conducting gel may feel slightly cold and wet.
Why the test is performedYour health care provider may order this test to:Determine the cause of abdominal painDetermine the cause of kidney infectionsDiagnose a herniaDiagnose and monitor tumors and cancersDiagnose or treat ascitesLearn why there is swelling of an abdominal organLook for damage after an injuryLook for stones in the gallbladder or kidneyLook for the cause of abnormal blood tests such as liver function tests or kidney testsLook for the cause of a feverThe reason for the test will depend on your symptoms.
Normal ValuesThe organs examined appear normal.
What abnormal results meanThe meaning of abnormal results depends on the organ being examined and the type of problem. Talk to your health care provider if you have any questions or concerns.An abdominal ultrasound can reveal many possible conditions, including:Abdominal aortic aneurysmAbscessAppendicitisCholecystitisGallstonesHydronephrosisKidney stonesSpleen enlargement (splenomegaly)Pancreatitis (infection in pancreas)
What the risks areThere is no documented risk. No ionizing radiation exposure is involved.
ReferencesCosgrove DO, Meire HB, Lim A, Eckersley RJ. Ultrasound: general principles. In: Adam A, Dixon AK, eds. Grainger & Allisonn's Diagnostic Radiology: A Textbook of Medical Imaging. 5th ed. New York, NY: Churchill Livingstone;2008:chap 3.Pickhardt PJ. Diagnostic imaging procedures in gastroenterology. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 13.