What is an Abdominal Ultrasound?

Mary McMahon

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.

An ultrasound technician administers abdominal ultrasounds.
An ultrasound technician administers abdominal ultrasounds.

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.

Abdominal ultrasounds may examine an individual's kidneys.
Abdominal ultrasounds may examine an individual's kidneys.

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.

Ultrasound is commonly used on pregnant women.
Ultrasound is commonly used on pregnant women.

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.

Doppler gel is typically used to lubricate the transducer in preparation for an abdominal ultrasound.
Doppler gel is typically used to lubricate the transducer in preparation for an abdominal ultrasound.

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.

There are many reasons for a doctor to order an abdominal ultrasound, including liver disease or chronic pain.
There are many reasons for a doctor to order an abdominal ultrasound, including liver disease or chronic pain.
Problems with the spleen, pancreas or bile duct may be diagnosed with an abdominal ultrasound.
Problems with the spleen, pancreas or bile duct may be diagnosed with an abdominal ultrasound.
An abdominal ultrasound can be used to detect problems with several different organs.
An abdominal ultrasound can be used to detect problems with several different organs.

Discuss this Article

Post your comments
Login:
Forgot password?
Register: