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Abdominal Ultrasound

How To Prepare

Tell your doctor if you have had a barium enema or a series of upper GI (gastrointestinal) tests within the past 2 days. Barium that remains in the intestines can interfere with the ultrasound test.

Other preparations depend on the reason for the abdominal ultrasound test you are having.

  • For ultrasound of the liver, gallbladder, spleen, and pancreas, you may be asked to eat a fat-free meal on the evening before the test and then to avoid eating for 8 to 12 hours before the test.
  • For ultrasound of the kidneys, you may not need any special preparation. You may be asked to drink 4 to 6 glasses of liquid (usually juice or water) about an hour before the test to fill your bladder. You may be asked to avoid eating for 8 to 12 hours before the test to avoid gas buildup in the intestines. Gas could interfere with the evaluation of the kidneys, which lay behind the stomach and intestines.
  • For ultrasound of the aorta, you may need to avoid eating for 8 to 12 hours before the test.

How It Is Done

This test is done by a doctor who specializes in performing and interpreting imaging tests (radiologist) or by an ultrasound technologist (sonographer) who is supervised by a radiologist. It is done in an ultrasound room in a hospital or doctor's office.

You will need to take off any jewelry that might interfere with the ultrasound scan. You will need to take off all or most of your clothes, depending on which area is examined (you may be allowed to keep on your underwear if it does not interfere with the test). You will be given a cloth or paper covering to use during the test.

During the test

You will lie on your back (or on your side) on a padded exam table. Warmed gel will be spread on your abdomen (or back) to improve the quality of the sound waves. A small handheld unit called a transducer is pressed against your abdomen.

You may be asked to change positions so more scans can be done. For a kidney ultrasound, you may be asked to lie on your stomach.

You need to lie very still while the ultrasound scan is being done. You may be asked to take a breath and hold it for several seconds during the scanning. This lets the sonographer see organs and structures, such as the bile ducts, more clearly because they are not moving. Holding your breath also temporarily pushes the liver and spleen lower into the belly so they are not hidden by the lower ribs, which makes it harder for the sonographer to see them clearly.

Abdominal ultrasound usually takes 30 to 60 minutes.

After the test

You may be asked to wait until the radiologist has reviewed the information. The radiologist may want to do more ultrasound views of some areas of your abdomen.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: November 29, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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