A complete abdominal ultrasound exam utilizes high-frequency sound waves to generate real-time images of the organs and structures within the abdomen. This noninvasive and safe procedure is particularly useful in evaluating the health of organs such as the liver, pancreas, and gallbladder, and can also be used to examine blood flow through blood vessels or guide needle placement during biopsies. In this article, we will explore what a complete abdominal ultrasound is, how it works, and what you can expect during the procedure.
What is a complete abdominal ultrasound?
A complete abdominal ultrasound is a type of diagnostic imaging test that uses sound waves to look at the organs and other structures within the abdomen. A small probe handled by the doctor slides directly on the skin with the help of some gel. The probe, called a transducer, emits high-frequency sound waves which travel through the body and then are collected when they bounce back, like an echo, by the same probe, creating an image on the screen. This procedure is noninvasive, painless and safe, it does not use any kind of harmful radiation and it shows real time images. For these reasons, it is the procedure of choice to examine the fetus in pregnant women, to check the blood flow through blood vessels or to guide needles when performing biopsies.
Sonogram vs ultrasound vs sonography
Ultrasound, ultrasound scan, sonography, and ultrasonography are all different ways to refer to the same exact procedure.
A sonogram on the other hand is the name of the image that is created by the ultrasound procedure, however sometimes even the word sonogram is used to refer to the actual procedure.
How long does an abdominal ultrasound take
A complete abdominal ultrasound is a test that takes less than 30 minutes to complete. After the procedure you will be able to return immediately to your normal activities.
What does a complete abdominal ultrasound show?
With an abdominal ultrasound the doctor is able to look at the following organs:
- Female reproductive organs
Other structures checked while performing the ultrasound are:
- Blood vessels such as the abdominal aorta and the vena cava.
- Bile ducts
By looking at these abdominal organs with an ultrasound machine the doctor is able to find tumors, gallstones or kidney stones, aneurysms, enlarged organs, fatty liver, abscesses and cysts, ascites. It could also help diagnose the following conditions:
- Congenital malformations
Why is the abdominal ultrasound prescribed?
A complete abdominal ultrasound could be a routine screening test prescribed by a physician to just check all organs and structures. The test could also be part of a yearly executive health checkup package. Other reasons to prescribe a complete abdominal ultrasound would be to aid in the diagnosis of an illness when experiencing symptoms such as:
- Abdominal pain
- Abdominal distention
- Check for damage following a trauma or injury
- Look for the cause of an abnormal blood test result
- Look for the cause of a fever
- Find the cause of a kidney infection
Prep for abdominal ultrasound
In general, a light diet in the days preceding the exam is advised. To check the lower part of the abdomen the bladder must be full, hence 1-2 hours prior to the abdominal ultrasound you may have to drink 1 liter of water and not urinate until the end of the test. You should also stop eating from 6 hours before the ultrasound.
In some cases, there may be further restrictions such as avoid eating from 12 hours before the test and eat fat free meals the day before the appointment.
Ask your doctor for specific information concerning the preparation for you complete abdominal ultrasound.
What happens during the abdominal ultrasound?
You will be lying face-up on the examination table and a physician or a trained technician will perform the test. You will need to uncover the abdominal area and for this reason you may be required to wear a disposable hospital gown. A small amount of gel will be applied to the abdomen and the probe will slide on the skin to examine all the relevant organs and structures. You may have to hold still and hold your breath when asked. You may also have to roll to one side or the other to better visualize some areas. At the end of the examination the gel will be wiped off and you’ll be able to resume your daily activities immediately.
What are the risks of an abdominal ultrasound?
An abdominal ultrasound is a risk-free procedure. No harmful radiations are used to perform the test and no side effects have ever been reported. The probe is gently pressed against the abdomen and you may feel some pressure. Some discomfort may arise due to the full bladder needed to properly check the lower abdomen.