Abdominal ultrasound

An introduction to abdominal ultrasound

Ultrasound scans employ waves of very high frequencies to create images and video 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.


Why is an abdominal ultrasound performed?

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 can hence be 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;

  1. Abdominal biopsy
  2. Cyst drainage
  3. Blood flow examination in the abdomen


Abdominal ultrasound

Photo Credit: NCBI – NIH


Risks associated with abdominal ultrasound

There are no risks associated with the use of abdominal ultrasounds as it does not use radiations like X-rays or CT scans. It is hence safe for pregnant women as no evidence have been documented for any harm to a fetus. Although it is wise to go for one especially when there is a specific medical need by a pregnant woman.

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 abdominal 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 fat diet-free meal prior to the test. You will then start fasting after the test.


How an abdominal ultrasound is 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 an interference with the procedure. A table will be shown to you. That is where you will lie on your back. In that lying position, your abdomen will be exposed. The technician, called a 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 were having abdominal pains before an ultrasound, you might have to inform the technician beforehand.  It will help him know what measures to take to help you reduce it.

It is actually possible for ultrasound results to be affected especially by certain conditions. These conditions are 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 and forwarded to a doctor who will explain the results to you and suggest further actions.


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