• Ultrasound of the Abdomen

    Why might I have an ultrasound of the abdomen?

    There are many reasons for examining the abdomen with ultrasound. These are among the more common reasons:  

    • To look for causes of upper abdominal pain, including gallstones, cholecystitis, pancreatitis, kidney stones or blockage in blood vessels of the intestines
    • To look for causes of lower abdominal pain, including appendicitis, inflammation of the small and large intestines, and hernias
    • To look for abnormalities that may be present in the abdominal organs, such as masses or enlargements in the spleen or liver
    • To evaluate the nature of a mass that may have been felt by the examining doctor or seen on other radiologic exams
    • To evaluate for enlargement of the liver or spleen
    • To determine the cause of kidney failure, such as kidney disease, obstruction of the kidneys or blockage of the kidneys' blood vessels
    • To evaluate for the cause of jaundice or abnormal liver enzymes
    • To look for enlargements (aneurysms) of the abdominal aorta
    • To evaluate problems with blood flow in the vessels of the various abdominal organs

    An ultrasound examination might not provide all the information your doctor needs. In those cases, additional studies could be required.                                   

     Kidney ultrasound            Gallbladder Ultrasound

    Are there any special preparations for the exam?

    Your doctor will probably tell you to refrain from eating or drinking for about eight hours prior to the exam. This is because these actions increase the amount of abdominal gas and could alter blood flow in upper abdominal organs or cause the gallbladder to contract, preventing an adequate ultrasound examination.

    How long will the exam take?

    The length of time for the examination varies with the complexity of the exam and the specific reasons for which it was requested. After the exam, you may safely drive home and eat and drink normally.

     Liver Ultrasound               Spleen ultrasound  

    What are the limitations of the exam?

    Because bone weakens sound waves, ultrasound cannot be used to examine bones surrounding your abdomen, such as your ribs. Also, because sound is weakened as it passes through layers of tissue, results from patients who are overweight are not of the same quality as those from patients who are thin. In addition, ultrasound cannot obtain images through gas. Thus, bowel gas could limit visualization of some structures of interest. 

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