Abdominal ultrasound

Definition

Abdominal ultrasound is an type of imaging test. It is used to examine organs in 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.

How the Test is Performed

An ultrasound machine makes images of organs and structures inside the body.  The machine sends out high-frequency sound waves that reflect off body structures.  A computer receives these waves and uses them to create a picture. Unlike with x-rays or CT scans, this test does not expose you to ionizing radiation.

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 need to change position so that the health care provider can look at different areas. You may also need to hold your breath for short periods during the exam.

Most of the time, the test takes less than 30 minutes.

How to Prepare for the Test

Preparation steps vary depending on the problem. Most of the time, people are asked not to eat or drink for several hours before the exam. Your health care provider will go over what you need to do. 

How the Test Will Feel

There is little discomfort. The conducting gel may feel a little cold and wet.

Why the Test is Performed

You may have this test to:

The reason for the test will depend on your symptoms.

Normal Results

The organs examined appear normal.

What Abnormal Results Mean

The 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 indicate conditions such as:

Risks

There is no known risk. You are not exposed to ionizing radiation.


Review Date: 11/9/2012
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, David R. Eltz, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.

This information should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. © 1997- 2007 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.