What should I expect during an abdominal ultrasound?

November 4, 2023 – 13 min read

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An abdominal ultrasound is a non-invasive procedure that uses high-frequency sound waves, kind of like the sonar that bats use, to create images of the structures within your abdomen. 

When these sound waves are aimed at your body from a small, handheld device called a transducer, these echoes are then translated by a computer into a visual representation of the inner workings of your body. Essentially, they provide a real-time, moving picture of your abdominal organs.

The great thing about an ultrasound is that, unlike some other imaging techniques, it doesn’t use any kind of radiation

Ultrasound has been used for many years to visualize the abdomen, as well as other body parts, like the heart. 

Why would a doctor recommend an abdominal ultrasound?

One of the greatest strengths of an abdominal ultrasound is its versatility. It can help clinicians investigate a range of symptoms and medical questions. 

For example, if you’ve been experiencing pain, swelling, or other unusual discomfort in your abdomen, an ultrasound can help your provider figure out why. 

In addition, abdominal ultrasounds are an excellent tool for guiding procedures like biopsies, where a small sample of tissue needs to be collected for further testing. 

They give healthcare providers a live, direct view of where their instruments are in relation to the structures in your body, increasing accuracy and safety. 

Not only can an ultrasound help find the problem but it can also guide the solution.

What medical conditions can an abdominal ultrasound help diagnose?

You’d be amazed at how many conditions an abdominal ultrasound can help identify. 

It can visualize the liver, gallbladder, spleen, pancreas, kidneys, and blood vessels of the abdomen, pinpointing issues like gallstones, kidney stones, liver disease, and abdominal aortic aneurysms.

An ultrasound can also detect cysts, tumors, abscesses, obstructions, fluid collection, and inflammation within these organs. 

It can measure the size of the abdominal organs, and make a record for future reference. In a nutshell, if there’s something unusual happening in your abdomen, an ultrasound is an informative, non-invasive way to start investigating what could be going on.

How does an abdominal ultrasound compare to other diagnostic imaging methods?

One major advantage is that it doesn’t expose you to any radiation; instead, it uses safe and harmless sound waves. 

It’s also generally a quicker, more comfortable, and less expensive procedure than many other imaging techniques.

Another advantage is its real-time imaging capability. Unlike some other methods, ultrasound provides live, moving images, allowing for dynamic visualization. 

However, it’s not always a one-size-fits-all situation. The imaging technique your provider has chosen will depend on your specific symptoms, medical history, the organ(s) to be looked at, and other factors. This ensures you get the best possible care.

How to prepare for your ultrasound

There are a few simple yet important steps to follow to ensure the clearest, most helpful images. 

When it comes to your diet, you may need to fast (that is, not eat or drink anything at all, not even water) for a certain period before your ultrasound. This is typically about 8-12 hours. 

If your appointment is in the morning, it’s usually pretty easy: have dinner the night before, skip breakfast, and then go to your ultrasound appointment.

You need to fast because if you have food in your stomach, or urine in your bladder, it can block the sound waves. That makes it difficult to get a clear picture of the abdominal organs. 

Your healthcare provider may ask you to drink a certain amount of water, usually around 32 ounces, about an hour before the procedure without urinating. A full bladder can actually help your provider better see certain organs.

In terms of lifestyle, there’s no need to make any significant changes. Just avoid wearing any jewelry or accessories that could interfere with the ultrasound on the day of the procedure.

Should I take my regular medications before the ultrasound?

Generally, you should continue to take any prescription medications, as directed by your healthcare provider, even on the day of your ultrasound. 

However, this can vary depending on the type of medication and the nature of your exam.

If you’re unsure, it’s best to discuss this with your healthcare provider and the imaging center beforehand. 

They’ll give you the green or red light for each of your medications, ensuring your safety and the effectiveness of the ultrasound. 

And remember, it’s crucial for you to provide a full list of all your medications, including any over-the-counter drugs, vitamins, and supplements. The more your healthcare team knows, the better they can care for you.

How should I dress for my ultrasound?

When it comes to choosing your outfit for the ultrasound, think comfort and convenience. 

You’ll be asked to lie down on an examination table, and the sonographer (the trained professional who does the ultrasound) will need easy access to your abdomen. Loose clothing would be a smart choice. 

You’ll also need to remove any jewelry or other metallic items that might interfere with the scan. 

If you want to feel cozy and warm, you could also consider wearing socks, because the rooms can sometimes be a little chilly. 

What medical history or paperwork do I need to bring with me?

You’ll want to have your identification, any relevant insurance cards, and a form of payment if there’s a co-pay. 

Also, bring along any paperwork or online forms your healthcare provider or the imaging center asked you to complete. 

It’s also a good idea to bring a list of any symptoms or unusual experiences you’ve been having, and a comprehensive list of your medications as we mentioned earlier. 

If you have had previous imaging done at another location, bringing those reports could be helpful, too.

It might feel like homework to gather these materials, but it’s an essential step in ensuring you get the most out of your ultrasound appointment.

Remember, this isn’t a pop quiz! If you have any questions or concerns about preparing for your abdominal ultrasound, reach out to your healthcare provider or the diagnostic imaging center. They’re there to help guide you through the process, ensuring that everything goes smoothly and comfortably.

The ultrasound procedure

An abdominal ultrasound is a fairly simple and painless examination.

You can expect your entire appointment time for the abdominal ultrasound to take about 30 minutes to an hour

This time includes checking in at the reception, having a preliminary chat with the sonographer, and the ultrasound procedure. 

The length of the imaging procedure depends on the complexity of the images your provider needs.

Who will do my ultrasound procedure?

This role falls to a highly skilled professional known as a diagnostic medical sonographer or ultrasound technician.

They will guide you through the entire process, from getting you comfortably positioned on the examination table, to capturing the best possible images of your abdomen.

Sonographers have undergone extensive training to understand not only how to operate the ultrasound machine, but also how to interpret what the images are showing in real-time. 

You can rest assured that you’re in knowledgeable and experienced hands. They’re there to help you, so don’t hesitate to ask any questions or voice any concerns you might have during your appointment.

What happens during an ultrasound?

Once you’ve met your sonographer and had a brief chat about the procedure, you’ll be asked to lie down on the examination table. 

The sonographer will then apply a special gel to your abdomen. It might feel a little cold against your skin.

This gel helps the transducer (the handheld device that sends and receives the sound waves) make secure contact with the body, so you can get the best image.

Then the sonographer will move the transducer back and forth over the area of interest. 

As the device glides over your skin, it sends high-frequency sound waves into your body, which then bounce back to create the images on a monitor. 

You might hear a whooshing or tapping noise from the machine during the scan if the transducer is being used to assess blood flow, but that’s perfectly normal.

The sonographer will take a series of images from different angles, and may ask you to change positions or hold your breath briefly, to get the best views. 

Once they’ve gathered all the necessary images, the gel is cleaned off, and your ultrasound is complete.

Will any part of my ultrasound procedure be uncomfortable or painful?

An abdominal ultrasound is typically painless. In general, the procedure is non-invasive and gentle.

You may feel slight pressure as the sonographer presses the transducer against your skin, especially if your bladder is full or you’re sensitive in the area being examined.

The gel might feel a little cold when first applied, but it should not cause any discomfort. 

If you do feel any discomfort, it’s important to let the sonographer know. 

After all, the goal of an ultrasound is to help you, not to cause you any undue distress.

Understanding your ultrasound results

After your abdominal ultrasound, you can generally expect your results within a few days. 

The precise time may vary depending on various factors, such as the complexity of the images and the need for a radiologist (which is a doctor specializing in interpreting medical images) to review and interpret them.

Remember, your healthcare provider wants to give you the most accurate information possible, so it’s essential to allow them some time to carefully analyze the results. 

Rest assured, they understand the waiting can be hard and will strive to get your results to you as promptly as possible.

Who will explain the ultrasound results to me?

In most cases, the person who will review your ultrasound results with you is your primary healthcare provider or the specialist who recommended the ultrasound. 

Once the radiologist has interpreted the ultrasound images, they will send a report to your healthcare provider. 

Your provider will then discuss the findings with you, explaining what they mean in the context of your overall health, and addressing any questions or concerns you may have. 

Their aim is to help you understand the results fully and discuss any next steps if necessary.

How are the results of an abdominal ultrasound interpreted?

Essentially, the sonographer captures images during your ultrasound, which are then reviewed by a radiologist. 

The radiologist studies these images, looking at the shape, size, and structure of your abdominal organs. 

They will note any abnormalities or changes they observe, comparing these images to what’s expected for a person of your age and health status. 

All this information is then put into a report for your healthcare provider.

What do common abnormalities or findings mean on an ultrasound?

Common abnormalities, like tumors, cysts, inflammation, or blockages in the intestines might indicate a variety of conditions, depending on where it is located. 

It’s important to remember that an ultrasound is just one piece of the puzzle. 

Your healthcare provider will consider these findings in the context of other tests and symptoms to reach a diagnosis.

What happens if the results of the ultrasound are normal?

A normal result means that the radiologist didn’t see any significant abnormalities in your ultrasound images. 

In other words, your abdominal organs appear to be of normal size and structure, and no unusual growths or changes were noted. 

A normal result is generally good news, indicating that your abdominal organs seem to be functioning correctly. 

Your healthcare provider will discuss these results with you and may suggest regular check-ups to maintain your health. 

Please keep in mind that even with a normal ultrasound, it’s important to continue communicating with your healthcare provider about any symptoms or concerns you have. 

Understanding the results of your ultrasound is crucial in taking charge of your health. 

It’s okay to ask questions and seek clarification about your results, and remember, your healthcare provider is there to guide you, every step of the way.

How to schedule an ultrasound appointment with Us

Reach out to us at American Health Imaging, and we’ll help you schedule an appointment at an imaging center near you, today. We’re here to help you get the answers you need.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is an abdominal ultrasound?

An abdominal ultrasound is a non-invasive imaging procedure that uses sound waves to create images of organs and structures within the abdomen.

A doctor might recommend an abdominal ultrasound to investigate symptoms like pain or swelling, or to diagnose, monitor, or rule out various medical conditions.

You may be asked to fast or follow a specific diet prior to the ultrasound, depending on the specific area being examined. You may be asked to drink water, and refrain from urinating, for an hour before the procedure. In all cases, follow the instructions provided to you by the diagnostic imaging center.

Typically, you should continue taking your regular medications, but it’s best to consult with your healthcare provider for specific instructions.

A trained sonographer or radiologist will typically conduct the ultrasound procedure.

The equipment used in an abdominal ultrasound includes a transducer and an ultrasound machine that displays the images on a monitor.

Results from an abdominal ultrasound are often available within a few hours to a couple of days, depending on the facility and the complexity of the examination.

Common abnormalities or findings on an ultrasound might indicate issues such as cysts, tumors, or inflammation, or even kidney or bladder stones, but a healthcare provider will interpret the specific meaning based on your overall health and medical history.