What is an abdominal ultrasound?
Ultrasound scans employ waves of very high frequencies to create images and videos of organs and structures of the body. Abdominal ultrasounds, therefore, help a doctor clearly view abdominal organs and structures. An abdominal ultrasound, just like any other ultrasound is painless and safe.
Purpose of an abdominal ultrasound
Since an abdominal ultrasound can create images of the kidneys, spleen, gallbladder, liver, and pancreas, then it will be useful in assessing their state and structure including the blood vessels found there.
An abdominal ultrasound is used to diagnose the presence of any of the following; kidney stone, blockage, enlargement or cancer, liver enlargement or cancer, blood clot, gallstone, hernia, appendicitis, tumors, fluid accumulation in the abdomen, pancreatitis, enlargement of the spleen.
It can also be useful in the following procedures;
- Abdominal biopsy
- Cyst drainage
- Blood flow examination in the abdomen
Photo Credit: NCBI – NIH
Risks associated with abdominal ultrasound
There are no risks associated with the use of abdominal ultrasound as it does not use radiations like X-rays or CT scans. It is hence safe for pregnant women as no evidence has been documented for any harm to a fetus. However, according to the FDA, parents should go for it only when there is extreme need.
Ultrasound has been reported to mildly heat up tissues in the abdomen. It has also been found to cause small bubbles in certain tissues. Its long-term effects are yet unknown.
Preparing for an ultrasound
Upon seeing a doctor, you will be instructed on what to do and not do before the test. You might be asked to temporarily (say 8 -12 hours) abstain from food and water. This is because undigested food in the stomach can blur images of organs in the abdomen.
If you are to undergo an ultrasound of any organ but the abdomen i.e. gallbladder, liver, pancreas, or spleen, there might be a slight difference.
You may be required to eat any food type except a fat diet-free meal prior to the test. You will then start fasting after the test.
How is it performed?
When it is time to have an ultrasound, you’d be given a hospital gown to wear with further instructions to strip yourself of any jewelry you might have on you. Jewelry can cause interference with the procedure.
You will be asked to lie on a table. Your abdomen is exposed as you lie. The sonographer will rub some lubricating gel on your abdomen. The gel will prevent air bubbles from forming between the transducer and your skin. It is the transducer that sends very high-frequency electric waves through your body.
If you had abdominal pains before coming for the ultrasound, then do not hesitate to inform your doctor or the sonographer. It will help him or she know what measures to take to help you reduce it.
Certain conditions can affect the outcome of abdominal ultrasounds. These conditions include the presence of food in the stomach, severe obesity, barium contrast dye, gas buildup in the intestine, etc.
The procedure does not last up to 30 minutes.
After the test, a radiologist will be required to interpret the ultrasound images. They are then forwarded to a doctor who will explain the results to you and suggest further actions.