| Reasons for Test
| Possible Complications
| What to Expect
| Call Your Doctor
An ultrasound uses sound waves to create images of structures in the body.
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Reasons for Test
An ultrasound is used to show details of structures in the abdomen. It can show features like the size and movement of organs, cysts or growths, or fluid collections. An ultrasound of the abdomen is most often done to:
- Diagnose an injury or disease
- Help determine the cause of abdominal pain, especially appendicitis
- Assess masses or fluid collections in the abdomen
- Assess the cause of abnormal liver or kidney function
- Help determine why an internal organ is enlarged
- Examine the baby and uterus in pregnant women
In most cases, there are no complications with this test.
What to Expect
A physical exam may be done. Bodily fluids may also be tested. This can be done with blood or urine tests.
In some cases, the doctor may advise the following:
- Fast for 8-12 hours before the test. This will decrease the amount of gas in the intestines and make organs easier to see.
- Have a full bladder before the test. The doctor may advise drinking 6 or more glasses of water without going to the bathroom.
You will be positioned on a table. A gel will be placed over the area that will be checked. The gel helps the sound waves travel from a wand to your body.
The ultrasound machine has a hand-held wand. The wand is pushed against your skin where the gel has been applied. The wand sends sound waves into your body. The waves bounce off your internal organs and echo back to the wand. The computer can convert echoes into images on a screen. The images on the screen are examined by your doctor. A photograph of them may be taken.
You may be asked to change positions or hold your breath during the exam.
The gel will be cleaned off your abdomen. You will be able to leave after the test is done. You will be able to return to your normal activities.
No. But, if you have a full bladder during the test, you may feel uncomfortable.
The images are looked at by doctors. A report will be given to your doctor. Based on the results, you and your doctor will talk about more tests and treatment options.
Call Your Doctor
After the test, call your doctor if the symptoms you had before the test become worse.
In case of an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.
ACR practice guideline for performing and interpreting diagnostic ultrasound examinations. American College of Radiology website. Available at:
Updated 2014. Accessed February 15, 2016.
General ultrasound imaging. Radiological Society of North America Radiology Info website. Available at:
http://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?pg=genus. Updated June 23, 2014. Accessed February 15, 2016.
Ultrasound—abdomen. Radiological Society of North America Radiology Info website. Available at:
http://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?pg=abdominus. Updated February 12, 2014. Accessed
February 15, 2016.
Last reviewed March 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board
Michael Woods, MD, FAAP
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