Diagnostic Ultrasound of the Abdomen (Sonogram)

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Examination of the internal organs in the abdomen 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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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 produces real-time images of soft tissue and can capture movement of internal organs. Therefore, it is used to visualize and diagnose problems inside the abdominal cavity. A diagnostic ultrasound is most often performed 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 can block views of the internal organs (Therefore, abdominal ultrasound should be done before other diagnostic imaging tests that require contrast material.)

What to Expect

Prior to Procedure

Your doctor will likely do the following:

Physical examOccasionally, other tests such as a blood tests When making the appointment, ask about dietary instructions. You may be asked to fast for 8 to 12 hours before the test to decrease the amount of gas in the intestines. For some types of ultrasound, a full bladder helps visualization. In these cases, 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 ProcedureYou will be asked to lie still on a flat table in a darkened room. The darkness helps the technician see images on the screen. AnesthesiaThere is no anesthesia associated with this ultrasound procedure. Description of the ProcedureThe technician applies a conductive gel to the abdomen and presses a transducer against the skin. This is a small, hand-held device that converts energy from one form to another. The gel helps transmit sound waves between the skin and the transducer because these waves cannot travel through air.The transducer sends high-frequency sound waves toward the internal organs, which reflect the sound waves back to the skin. The transducer receives these sound waves and converts them into electrical impulses that become a visible image on the echocardiography machine.
The technician watches the images as they appear on the machine's screen. The technician can capture a still image or videotape moving images for review at a later time. To obtain clearer and more complete images, the technician may move the transducer to different places on the abdomen. You may be asked to change positions or hold your breath during the exam. After ProcedureThe gel necessary for the ultrasound will be cleaned off the abdomen. How Long Will It Take?The procedure generally takes about 30 minutes. Will It Hurt?No. An ultrasound is not invasive and not painful. The gel may feel cold when it is first applied, and holding the transducer tightly against the skin produces a sensation of pressure and in some cases discomfort. For instance, pressure on a full bladder feels uncomfortable. Possible ComplicationsThere are no complications typically associated with diagnostic ultrasound of the abdomen. Average Hospital StayThere is no hospital stay for this procedure. Postoperative CareClean the gel off your skinResume normal activities unless directed otherwise by the doctor OutcomeA radiologist analyzes and interprets the images created by the ultrasound and gives a report to your doctor. Your doctor will make recommendations for treatment based on this report.
Call Your Doctor If Any of the Following OccursYour symptoms become worse RESOURCES: The Association for Medical Ultrasoundhttp://www.aium.org RadiologyInfo, American College of Radiology and Radiological Society of North Americahttp://www.radiologyinfo.org CANADIAN RESOURCES: Health Canadawww.hc-sc.gc.ca/index_e.html Radiology for Patientshttp://www.radiologyinfo.ca References: American College of Radiology website. Available at: http://www.acr.org/s_acr/index.asp. Radiological Society of North America website. Available at: http://www.rsna.org/. Last reviewed November 2007 by Daus Mahnke, MDPlease 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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