What is an Abdominal Ultrasound?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
An ultrasound technician administers abdominal ultrasounds.
An ultrasound technician administers abdominal ultrasounds.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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    • An ultrasound technician administers abdominal ultrasounds.
      By: Zsolnai Gergely
      An ultrasound technician administers abdominal ultrasounds.
    • Abdominal ultrasounds may examine an individual's kidneys.
      By: jeff gynane
      Abdominal ultrasounds may examine an individual's kidneys.
    • Problems with the spleen, pancreas or bile duct may be diagnosed with an abdominal ultrasound.
      By: snapgalleria
      Problems with the spleen, pancreas or bile duct may be diagnosed with an abdominal ultrasound.
    • There are many reasons for a doctor to order an abdominal ultrasound, including liver disease or chronic pain.
      By: Alliance
      There are many reasons for a doctor to order an abdominal ultrasound, including liver disease or chronic pain.
    • Ultrasound is commonly used on pregnant women.
      By: Monkey Business
      Ultrasound is commonly used on pregnant women.
    • An abdominal ultrasound can be used to detect problems with several different organs.
      By: Klaus Eppele
      An abdominal ultrasound can be used to detect problems with several different organs.
    • Doppler gel is typically used to lubricate the transducer in preparation for an abdominal ultrasound.
      By: Klaus Eppele
      Doppler gel is typically used to lubricate the transducer in preparation for an abdominal ultrasound.