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Abdominal Ultrasound

Alternate Names

  • abdominal ultrasonography

Definition

Abdominal ultrasound is a technique that uses high-frequency sound waves, or ultrasounds, to examine soft tissues such as the abdominal organs. This test can provide information about the liver, gallbladder, spleen, pancreas, kidneys, ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus, and urinary bladder. It can detect some abdominal masses. An abdominal ultrasound can also be used to view blood flow to the abdominal organs.

Who is a candidate for the test?

An abdominal ultrasound may be done for a number of reasons, including the following:
  • to determine the cause of an enlarged organ
  • to determine the source of bleeding
  • to identify abnormalities in a woman's ovaries, fallopian tubes, or uterus
  • to identify causes for vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation
  • to locate the source of abdominal distress
  • to look for stones in organs, such as the gallbladder or kidney
Abdominal ultrasound is especially useful to diagnose or monitor a woman's pregnancy, because it avoids the use of X-rays, which could harm the unborn child. An abdominal ultrasound in pregnancy is known as a "pregnancy ultrasound".

How is the test performed?

A liquid gel is applied to the person's abdomen to help transmit sounds. A transducer, which is like a microphone, is placed on the abdomen. The transducer is connected to a computer that converts the signals into images. The majority of time spent in an ultrasound is in "listening" to the sound waves return to the transducer (99%) and not actually sending any sound energy to the organ. No study has ever shown any harm to a patient or pregnancy from diagnostic ultrasound.
A Doppler ultrasound may also be used to check movement in organs, such as blood flowing through blood vessels.

What is involved in preparation for the test?

Depending on the reason for the abdominal ultrasound, some preparation may be required. The individual may be told to avoid eating for several hours before the test. He or she may be asked to drink liquid to ensure that the bladder is full. The healthcare professional should be asked for specific instructions.

What do the test results mean?

Abnormal results, such as a mass, empty uterus (if pregnancy test positive), or stones , may need further testing or surgery. The healthcare professional will discuss results with the individual.

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