Alternative names
Abdominal X-ray; X-ray - abdomen; Flat plate; Abdominal film

Abdominal films are X-ray images of the abdomen. X-rays are a form of electromagnetic radiation (like light). They are of higher energy, however, and can penetrate the body to form an image on film. Structures that are dense (such as bone) will appear white, air will be black, and other structures will be shades of gray.

How the test is performed
The test is performed in a hospital radiology department or in the health care provider’s office by an X-ray technologist. You lie on your back on the X-ray table. The X-ray machine is positioned over your abdominal area. You hold your breath as the picture is taken so that the picture will not be blurry. You may be asked to change position to the side or to stand up for additional pictures.

How to prepare for the test
Inform the health care provider if you are pregnant, have an IUD inserted, or have had a barium contrast media X-ray in the last 4 days.

If you have taken any medications such as Pepto Bismol (which contains bismuth) within 4 days mention it to the health care provider, because they may interfere with the test.

You wear a hospital gown during the X-ray procedure. You must remove all jewelry. You must sign an informed consent form.

For infants and children:
The preparation you can provide for this procedure depends on your child’s age and previous experiences. For specific 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 no discomfort. The films are taken with you lying on your back, side, and standing.

Why the test is performed
The abdominal X-ray can help identify suspected problems in the urinary system such as a kidney stone, or a blockage or perforation (hole) in the intestine. The X-ray can locate an object that has been swallowed. The X-ray may also help in diagnosing a pain in the abdomen or unexplained nausea.

Normal Values
The X-ray will show normal structures for a person your age.

What abnormal results mean
Abnormal findings include:

  • abdominal masses  
  • an accumulation of fluid in the abdominal area  
  • kidney stones  
  • some types of gallstones  
  • intestinal blockage  
  • foreign bodies in the intestines (an intestinal obstruction)  
  • trauma to the abdominal tissue  
  • perforation of the stomach or intestines

Additional conditions under which the test may be performed:

  • abdominal aortic aneurysm  
  • acute appendicitis  
  • acute cholecystitis  
  • acute renal failure  
  • Addison’s disease  
  • adenomyosis  
  • annular pancreas  
  • ascariasis  
  • atheroembolic renal disease  
  • Biliary atresia  
  • blind loop syndrome  
  • cholangitis  
  • chronic renal failure  
  • cirrhosis  
  • echinococcus  
  • encopresis  
  • Hirschsprung’s disease  
  • idiopathic aplastic anemia  
  • injury of the kidney and ureter  
  • intussusception (children)  
  • necrotizing enterocolitis  
  • nephrocalcinosis  
  • peritonitis; dialysis associated  
  • peritonitis, spontaneous  
  • primary or idiopathic intestinal pseudo-obstruction  
  • renal artery stenosis  
  • renal cell carcinoma  
  • secondary aplastic anemia  
  • toxic megacolon  
  • Wilms’ tumor

What the risks are

There is low radiation exposure. X-rays are monitored and regulated to provide the minimum amount of radiation exposure needed to produce the image. Most experts feel that the risk is low compared with the benefits.

Pregnant women and children are more sensitive to the risks of the X-ray. Women should make the health care provider aware of suspected pregnancy.

Special considerations
The test is not usually recommended for pregnant women. The ovaries and uterus cannot be shielded during the abdominal X-ray because of their location. Men should have a lead shield placed over the testes to protect against the radiation.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 4, 2012
by Harutyun Medina, M.D.

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All ArmMed Media material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.