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Diagnostic Ultrasound of the Abdomen
An ultrasound uses sound waves to create images of structure in the body. A
is a special type of ultrasound that can show blood flow in the vessels.
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Reasons for Test
An ultrasound is used to show details of structures in the abdomen. It can show features like the size and movement of organs. An ultrasound of the abdomen is most often done to:
- Diagnose an injury or disease
- Help determine the cause of abdominal pain
- Assess masses in the abdomen
- Assess the cause of abnormal liver function
- Help determine why an internal organ is enlarged
- Examine the baby and uterus in pregnant women
- Evaluate changes or problems in the blood vessels
In most cases, there are no complications with this test.
What to Expect
Prior to test
A physical exam may be done. Your bodily fluids may also be tested. This can be done with blood or urine tests.
In some cases, your doctor may instruct you to:
- Fast for 8-12 hours before the test. This will decrease the amount of gas in your intestines and make your organs easier to see.
- Have a full bladder before the test. You may need to drink six or more glasses of water without going to the bathroom.
Description of the Test
You will lie on a table. A gel will be placed over the area that will be checked. The gel helps the sound waves travel from a wand to your body.
The ultrasound machine has a hand-held wand. The wand is pushed against your skin where the gel has been applied. The wand sends sound waves into your body. The waves bounce off your internal organs and echo back to the wand. The computer can convert echoes into images on a screen. The images on the screen are examined by your doctor. A photograph of them may be taken.
You may be asked to change positions or hold your breath during the exam.
The gel will be cleaned off your abdomen. You will be able to leave after the test is done. You will be able to return to your normal activities.
How Long Will It Take?
Will It Hurt?
No. But, if you have a full bladder during the test, you may feel uncomfortable.
The images are looked at by doctors. A report will be given to your doctor. Based on the results, you and your doctor will talk about more tests and treatment options.
Call Your Doctor
After the test, call your doctor if the symptoms you had before the test become worse.
In case of an emergency, call for medical help right away.
Association for Medical Ultrasound
Radiological Society of North America
Radiology for Patients
ACR practice guideline for performing and interpreting diagnostic ultrasound examinations. American College of Radiology website. Available at:
Updated 2011. Accessed March 5, 2013.
General ultrasound imaging. Radiological Society of North America Radiology Info website. Available at: http://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?pg=genus. Updated July 2, 2012. Accessed March 28, 2013.
Real-time ultrasound in abdominal examinations.
Radiology. 1979 Dec;133(3 Pt1):825.
Ultrasound—Abdomen. Radiological Society of North America Radiology Info website. Available at: http://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?pg=abdominus. Updated March 7, 2013. Accessed March 28, 2013.