An abdominal ultrasound is an imaging test that produces a picture of the organs and other structures in the upper abdomen, including the liver, gallbladder, spleen, pancreas and kidneys.
The blood vessels that lead to some of these organs, such as the inferior vena cava and aorta, can also be examined with a special ultrasound technique called Doppler ultrasound. This technique evaluates blood velocity as it flows through a blood vessel.
Emerson Hospital’s expert sonographers provide abdominal ultrasound imaging at the main Emerson campus in Concord and at Emerson’s Westford Health Center.
Why abdominal ultrasound is performed
Abdominal ultrasounds are used to check the major organs in the abdominal cavity (gallbladder, kidneys, liver, pancreas and spleen) for conditions such as blood clots, gallstones, hernia, pancreatitis, kidney stones, tumors, appendicitis and fluid in the abdominal cavity.
It is also recommended that men between the ages of 65 and 75, who smoke or used to smoke, should have an abdominal ultrasound to screen for an abdominal aortic aneurysm—a balloon-like bulge in the aorta that can be life-threatening.
What an abdominal ultrasound involves
When your abdominal ultrasound is scheduled, you will be given instructions about avoiding food and drink before your exam (these instructions are specific to the type of exam you are having).
Tell your doctor if you have had a barium enema or a series of upper GI (gastrointestinal) tests within the past two days. Barium that remains in the intestines can interfere with the ultrasound test.
You should wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothing for your ultrasound exam, or you may be asked to wear a gown during the procedure.
During the exam, a specially trained Emerson sonographer will press a small hand-held transducer against your skin and move it over the area being examined. A small amount of gel will first be applied to your abdominal area (this eliminates any air pockets between your skin and the device).
The transducer sends information to a computer, which produces detailed images based on the patterns created by the sound waves.
An ultrasound exam is generally a painless procedure, and a typical exam takes from 30 minutes to an hour. You are free to resume all normal activities after your test.