Abdominal ultrasound

Alternative names
Ultrasound - abdomen; Abdominal sonogram


Abdominal ultrasound is an imaging procedure used to examine the internal organs of the abdomen including the liver, gallbladder, spleen, pancreas, and kidneys. The blood vessels to some of these organs can also be evaluated with the use of ultrasound techniques.

The ultrasound machine sends out high-frequency sound waves that reflect off body structures to create a picture. Unlike with x-rays, there is no ionizing radiation exposure with this test.

How the test is performed

The test is done in the ultrasound or radiology department. You will be lying down for the procedure. A clear, water-based conducting gel is applied to the skin over the area being examined to help with the transmission of the sound waves. The ultrasound transducer (a handheld probe) is then moved over the abdomen.

You may be asked to move to other positions so the health care provider can examine different areas. You may also be asked to hold your breath for short periods of time during the examination.

The procedure usually takes less than 30 minutes.

How to prepare for the test

Preparation for the procedure depends on the nature of the problem and your age. Usually patients are asked to not eat or drink for several hours before the examination. Your health care provider will advise you about specific preparation.

In infants and children:
The preparation you can provide for this procedure depends on your child’s age, previous experience, and level of trust. For general information regarding how you can prepare your child, see the following topics:

  • Infant test or procedure preparation (birth to 1 year)  
  • Toddler test or procedure preparation (1 to 3 years)  
  • Preschooler test or procedure preparation (3 to 6 years)  
  • Schoolage test or procedure preparation (6 to 12 years)  
  • Adolescent test or procedure preparation (12 to 18 years)

How the test will feel
There is little discomfort. The conducting gel may feel slightly cold and wet.

Why the test is performed

There are many reasons for performing an abdominal ultrasound, including looking for the following:

  • A cause of pain  
  • Stones in the gallbladder or kidney  
  • A cause for enlargement of an abdominal organ

The reason for the examination will depend on your symptoms.

Normal Values
The organs examined are normal in appearance.

What abnormal results mean
The significance of abnormal results will depend on the organ being examined and the nature of the problem. You should consult your health care provider with any questions and concerns.

What the risks are
There is no documented risk. No ionizing radiation exposure is involved.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 8, 2012
by Armen E. Martirosyan, M.D.

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