What is an Abdominal Ultrasound?

An abdominal ultrasound is a medical imaging study which focuses on the abdomen, the area of the body between the thorax and the pelvis. There are a number of reasons to order an abdominal ultrasound, ranging from a case of abdominal trauma to a patient with chronic liver disease. The imaging study can last between 30 minutes and an hour, and it is entirely painless, although it may be briefly uncomfortable.

Ultrasound imaging involves the use of high frequency sound waves which are bounced into the abdomen with the use of a transducer. The sound waves are recorded on their return, constructing a picture of the interior of the abdomen. Modern ultrasound equipment is capable of producing images with very high definition, allowing the ultrasound technician or doctor to clearly visualize the interior of the abdomen, and it is also possible to create a three dimensional image with an array of transducers to get an even better picture.


Depending on the reason for the ultrasound, the patient may be asked to prepare for the test by fasting, drinking lots of water, or taking a particular medication. The preparations are designed to make it easier to see during the ultrasound. During the imaging study, the patient's abdomen will be exposed and covered in a conductive gel. The transducer will be run along the abdomen at various angles, and it may be pressed into the abdomen to acquire specific images. In some cases, the patient may need to change position so that the technician can get a different angle.

The kidneys, liver, spleen, gall bladder, pancreas, and abdominal aorta can all be seen in an abdominal ultrasound. The ultrasound allows the technician to see these organs working in real time, and he or she can also take still images of particular areas of interest for future reference. Holding still during the imaging study is important to get a clear image, and it may also be necessary for the patient to hold his or her breath periodically to reduce movement in the abdomen.

If the abdominal ultrasound is performed by a doctor, he or she may discuss the images immediately, or request more time to review the images. Ultrasound technicians will turn the images over to a doctor, and the doctor will contact the patient to discuss the results. After an abdominal ultrasound, follow up tests and examinations may be required, or a doctor may develop a course of treatment to address a specific issue. If the ultrasound was performed for the purpose of monitoring an existing condition, no further action may be required.



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