Abdominal ultrasound

An ultrasound safely sends high-frequency sound waves through your body to produce images of internal organs, veins and other structures in your body. The images produced by ultrasounds can provide valuable information that helps your doctor "see" what is going on in your body without exposing you to harmful radiation.

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As the name suggests, an abdominal ultrasound provides images of the structures in your belly, such as:

  • Blood vessels in the abdomen
  • Gallbladder
  • Intestines
  • Kidneys
  • Liver
  • Pancreas
  • Spleen

What can an ultrasound detect?

Abdominal ultrasound can be used to diagnose or rule out many diseases and conditions. For instance, doctors use it to image the portion of the aorta that passes blood from the heart, down through the body, to screen for abdominal aortic aneurysm. This condition can be serious, as it means the vessel has a weakened or bulging portion that could rupture, leading to internal bleeding.

Doctors recommend an abdominal ultrasound to screen for an abdominal aortic aneurysm in men ages 65 to 75 who are current or former cigarette smokers. If you've never smoked, abdominal aortic aneurysm screening isn't recommended for men or women, unless your doctor suspects you may have an aneurysm or you have a family history of an aneurysm.

Your doctor may recommend an abdominal ultrasound to check for:

  • Kidney stones
  • Liver disease
  • Tumours
  • Causes of stomach pain or bloating
  • Other conditions

Abdominal ultrasounds pose no known risks to you as they use low-power sound waves that pass safely through tissue.

How should I prepare for an ultrasound and what can I expect?

Any extra material in your abdomen, such as liquid or food in your stomach and urine in your bladder, can create issues with getting clear images through ultrasound. So, generally, you'll need to avoid eating and drinking a number of hours before your procedure. Sometimes you are able to drink water and take medications during this time, so ask your doctor.

During the procedure, a sonographer will apply a small amount of gel to your stomach area to help get better images. The technician gently presses a wand, called a transducer, on your abdomen and moves it around. The transducer sends signals to a computer that develops them into images.

The procedure typically takes about 30 minutes and is usually painless. However, if you have a sore or tender spot, you may experience temporary discomfort if the technician has to press on it with the transducer.

As the procedure isn't invasive, you should be able to return to normal activities immediately after.

The sonographer giving an abdominal ultrasound won't be able to give you results. Rather, a radiologist will review the images to diagnose any issues and share those with your doctor. At Mayo Clinic Healthcare, people generally have results the same day.

Mayo Clinic Healthcare will work with you to determine if an ultrasound is right for you.

Read more about abdominal ultrasounds at MayoClinic.org