Diagnostic Ultrasound of the Abdomen
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Diagnostic Ultrasound of the Abdomen


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An ultrasound examines of the internal organs using high-frequency sound waves. If a Doppler ultrasound is done, the doctor is able to see blood flow in major blood vessels.

Abdominal Ultrasound

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© 2008 Nucleus Medical Art, Inc.

Parts of the Body Involved

An abdominal ultrasound can examine the following:

  • Abdomen
  • Liver
  • Spleen
  • Pancreas
  • Gallbladder
  • Kidneys
  • Ovaries and uterus (including pregnant uterus and fetus within)
  • Aorta and other abdominal arteries (via Doppler ultrasound)

Reasons for Procedure

Ultrasound is used to find problems inside the abdominal cavity. It can show organs and movement. An ultrasound is most often done for the following reasons:

  • To diagnose an injury or disease of the liver, gallbladder, spleen, pancreas, kidneys, or other organs inside the abdomen
  • To help determine the cause of abdominal pain
  • To identify gallbladder or kidney stones
  • To assess for tumors, cysts, abscesses, or other masses in the abdomen
  • To help determine why an internal organ is enlarged
  • To examine a pregnant uterus and the fetus within
  • To evaluate the aorta for the presence of an aneurysm
  • To evaluate narrowing of the arteries in the abdomen
  • To assess a spleen injury
  • To evaluate liver disease or pancreatitis
  • To locate a foreign object in the abdomen, such as a bullet

Risk Factors for Complications During the Procedure

  • Both obesity and dehydration can make it more difficult to identify organs during the test
  • Air in the intestines may block views of the internal organs
  • The presence of barium or other contrast materials in the intestine (from other types of x-rays or exams) can block views of the internal organs

What to Expect

Prior to Procedure

Your doctor will likely do the following:

  • Physical exam
  • Occasionally, other tests such as a blood tests
Ask about any dietary limits. You may be asked to fast for 8 to 12 hours before the test. This will decrease the amount of gas in the intestines. For some types of ultrasound, a full bladder is needed. You will be asked to drink six or more glasses of water and not to urinate before the scan.

Wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothing

During Procedure

You will be asked to lie still on a flat table in a darkened room. The darkness helps to see images on the screen.



Description of the Procedure

The technician applies a gel to the abdomen. A transducer is pressed against the skin. This is a small, hand-held device that transmits the images. The gel helps the sound waves move between the skin and the transducer.

High-frequency sound waves are sent toward the internal organs. The organs reflect the sound waves back to the skin. The transducer receives them and they become a visible image on the machine.

The images are watched as they appear on the machine's screen. A still image or a videotape moving images may be taken. You may be asked to change positions or hold your breath during the exam.

After Procedure

The gel will be cleaned off the abdomen.

How Long Will It Take?

30 minutes

Will It Hurt?

An ultrasound is not painful. The gel may feel cold when it is first applied. The transducer may create a sensation of pressure. Pressure on a full bladder feels uncomfortable.

Possible Complications

There are no complications typically associated with this procedure.

Average Hospital Stay


Postoperative Care

  • Clean the gel off your skin
  • Resume normal activities unless directed otherwise by the doctor


The images are analyzed and interpreted by experts. A report will be given to your doctor. Your doctor will make recommendations for treatment based on this report.

Call Your Doctor If Any of the Following Occurs

  • Your symptoms become worse


The Association for Medical Ultrasound

RadiologyInfo, American College of Radiology and Radiological Society of North America


Health Canada

Radiology for Patients


ACR practice guideline for performing and interpreting diagnostic ultrasound examinations. American College of Radiology website. Available at: http://www.acr.org/SecondaryMainMenuCategories/quality_safety/guidelines/us/us_performing_interpreting.aspx. Accessed July 28, 2008.

Real-time ultrasound in abdominal examinations. Radiological Society of North America website. Available at: http://radiology.rsnajnls.org/cgi/content/abstract/133/3/825. Accessed July 28, 2008.

Last reviewed November 2007 by Daus Mahnke, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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