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Abdominal Ultrasound

For most people, the word ultrasound is synonymous with a pregnant woman. Although ultrasound can give you a sneak at a baby’s growth in the womb, it can do much more than fetal imaging. Ultrasound can help detect abnormal growths and structural changes in the organs and soft tissues in your body. As it does not use radiation, it is safer than other imaging tests.

What is an abdominal ultrasound?

Abdominal ultrasound is an imaging test that can rapidly detect any irregularities of the abdominal organs. Your doctor may recommend this abdominal ultrasound test if you have problems with the digestive tract.

If you have complaints like abdominal pain, bloating, or bowel abnormalities, you will need an abdominal ultrasound test to diagnose the cause. It can detect tumors, stones (kidney or gallbladder), fatty liver, and several other severe medical conditions.

A complete ultrasound test for the abdomen examines:

  • Liver
  • Intestine
  • Pancreas
  • Gallbladder
  • Spleen
  • Kidneys
  • Abdominal blood vessels

Abdominal ultrasound can also screen for aortic aneurysms. These aneurysms can prove life-threatening, and an early diagnosis can improve your chances of recovery. Men over the age of 60 should undergo screening at least once, especially if they smoke or have smoked in the past.

What are the risks associated with an abdominal ultrasound?

Abdominal ultrasound has no known side effects and is a safe and accurate test. A trained medical professional performs the test. Unlike an X-ray, ultrasound does not involve radiations.

It uses a small wand-like transducer head moved along the skin. Although you may feel mild pressure or discomfort if the head touches a tender area, ultrasound is a painless test.

How does the ultrasound work?

The ultrasound device works based on transmitting and receiving sound waves. It consists of three components – a control panel, a display to show the images taken during the scan, and a wand-like transducer.

The transducer sends the sound waves into your body. The different parts of your body reflect these sound waves. The reflected waveforms vary in shape and intensity according to tissue density. The transducer head picks up on these reflected sound waves.

The ultrasound device connects to a computer. It analyzes the various frequencies and displays the images of the internal organs on the screen. These images are called sonograms.

How to prepare for an abdominal ultrasound?

A professional will instruct you on the care you need to take before your ultrasound appointment.

Typically, you will be asked to avoid eating food or drinking fluids for a few hours before your test. Food and water can influence the ultrasound images making them blurry. It can impact the accuracy of the diagnosis. In some cases, however, you may have to drink a specific quantity of water to create a better view of the organs.

Reach the venue ahead of your scheduled appointment time and wear comfortable, easily removable clothing to facilitate the process.

What to expect during an abdominal ultrasound?

A medical technician (sonographer) conducts the test.

Before the scan

For the ultrasound, you will have to remove or pull up your clothes to reveal your abdominal area. In some places, you may have to change into the hospital gown before the test. It allows the technician easy access to your abdominal area while performing the test. The technician will ask you to lie down on an examination table in a comfortable position.

During the scan

The technician will apply a small amount of gel to your abdomen. It acts as a medium to transmit the sound waves into your body. The gel may feel cold and slimy but is easy to remove.

The technician will then gently glide the transducer head on specific sites on your gel-coated abdomen. You may experience temporary discomfort if the head presses on a tender area, but it usually resolves by itself. The technician may ask you to move in a certain way or hold your breath for a while to get clear images. The entire scan requires about 30 minutes. Once the scan is complete, the technician will wipe the gel, and you can put on your clothes again.

After the scan

You can get on with your usual activities. There are no post-scan restrictions in abdominal ultrasound.

What are the possible results of an abdominal ultrasound?

A radiologist will analyze and interpret your ultrasound scan. Your doctor or the radiologist will share the results of your scans with you.

An abdominal ultrasound can help identify the cause of your abdominal and digestive complaints. It can identify various conditions ,few are mentioned below :

  • Kidney stones
  • Enlarged spleen
  • Gallstones
  • Cholecystitis
  • Pancreatitis
  • Cancer – stomach, pancreas, liver, etc.
  • Fatty liver disease
  • Abdominal aortic aneurysm (a bulge in the aorta – a blood vessel in your abdomen)

If there are no positive findings, your doctor will not recommend further tests.

When should you consult a doctor?

You will need to consult your doctor if there are any abnormal findings in your abdominal ultrasound. During the consultation, your doctor will discuss a plan of action with you. It may involve additional screening and treatment approaches.

You can always seek a second or an expert opinion.

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You may also need follow-up examinations. Follow-up exams can detect any change in the abnormalities viewed in your organs over time. It can also track your response to the treatment – whether your condition is stable and improving or deteriorating.

Follow-up exams are sometimes the best way to see if treatment is working or if an abnormality is stable or has changed.

Conclusion

An abdominal ultrasound can diagnose routine and severe medical conditions. Unlike other imaging studies, an ultrasound scan is safer and provides accurate results. Some factors (consuming food and water) can hinder ultrasound imaging, causing them to appear blurred. It is possible to avoid blurred images by following the instructions.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q. What are the limitations of an ultrasound scan?

A. Air-or gas-filled spaces can disrupt the ultrasound waves from reflecting. Ultrasound scanning is therefore ineffective for air-filled organs like lungs, obstructed bowel, etc. Similarly, ultrasound cannot penetrate bone and cannot help diagnose accurately. Excess fatty tissues can weaken the reflecting sound waves. Due to this, the accuracy of ultrasound scanning in plus-sized patients may diminish.

Q. What is the difference between a pelvic and an abdominal ultrasound?

A. A pelvic ultrasound scans the pelvic organs located in the lower part of the abdomen. The organs imaged in a pelvic ultrasound are the urinary bladder, uterus, and ovaries in women, prostate in men, and fetal imaging. An abdominal ultrasound includes scanning the upper quadrant – the organs of the digestive system, spleen, and kidneys.

Q. Does ultrasound detect gastritis?

A. Ultrasound usually cannot identify gastritis and ulcers. However, it can occasionally detect the thickening of the walls of the stomach and intestines.

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