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An abdominal ultrasound is an imaging test. It allows your healthcare provider to look inside your abdomen (often referred to as your stomach or belly) without surgery. The abdomen is the part of your body that contains your stomach, large and small intestines, pancreas, liver, and gallbladder. It contains blood vessels, including the main artery that supplies blood from your heart (aorta), the large vein that carries blood to your heart (inferior vena cava) and all of its branches. Also, it contains muscles and your spine.
An abdominal ultrasound is safe. The test may cause only mild discomfort. It is performed on people of all ages. A specially trained medical professional moves a handheld device (called a wand) across your belly. The wand is connected to an ultrasound machine. As the person moves the wand across your belly, it produces high-frequency sound waves. Those sound waves create real-time images and video of the inside of your belly. The images look similar to an X-ray. However, ultrasound picks up things that aren’t seen by an X-ray.
Before starting the process, the medical professional will apply a small amount of a clear gel to your stomach. This helps the wand move easily. The gel may feel cold.
Path to improved well being
Abdominal ultrasounds are performed on people who have unexplained abdominal pain or have had abdominal injuries. When you arrive for your ultrasound, you may be asked to undress and put on a light gown. You’ll lie on your back next to the ultrasound machine. Gel will be applied onto your abdomen and spread around using the wand. The professional performing the test will watch the images as they appear on a nearby monitor. They will record the images for the healthcare provider to review. The test typically 15-60 minutes to complete. The results will be reviewed by a radiologist. A report will be sent to your healthcare provider to review. You should follow up with your healthcare provider for the results.
How do I get ready for the test?
This depends on which organ or area of your body is to be studied.
Upper abdomen (belly)
- Do not eat or drink after midnight the night before the test. You may take your pills as usual with a sip of water.
- If you are taking pills and/or insulin for diabetes, check with your family doctor. You may need special instructions if you need to take these medications before your test. Bring your blood testing equipment to the hospital with you on the day of your ultrasound.
Pelvis, kidney, and pregnancy
- Your bladder must be full for this test.
- Please drink 24–32 ounces (3–4 cups) of water 1 hour before your appointment time.
- Do not pass urine (pee) after drinking until your test is over.
Other reasons your healthcare provider may order this test include:
- To locate the cause of a kidney infection.
- To diagnose and track tumor growth and cancer.
- To diagnose or treat fluid buildup in your abdomen.
- To check the swelling of organs inside the abdomen.
- To examine the damage from an injury to your spleen.
- To locate kidney or gallbladder stones.
- To determine the cause of abnormal liver or kidney blood tests.
- To check for unexplained causes of fever.
- To guide a biopsy procedure (using a needle to take a sample of a tumor or tissue from your abdomen).
Things to consider
Your healthcare provider will examine you before deciding if you should have an abdominal ultrasound. Ultrasounds do not expose you to radiation. You may have some mild discomfort as the wand is moved over the area of your abdominal pain.
An abdominal ultrasound is less effective on people who are severely obese. Excess fat and tissue blocks the technician’s view of organs and arteries.