Ultrasounds are non-invasive scans that allow medical practitioners to take images and videos of the interior parts of your body. Ultrasounds utilize high-frequency sound waves which then capture your images of your organs. As you may already know, these scans are mostly used to examine fetuses in expectant women without making incisions. Ultimately, these scans enable doctors to understand what is going within on your body and there are various reasons as to why a doctor may want to take an ultrasound examination. Read on to learn when an abdominal ultrasound is needed, what you can expect from the procedure and how you can cope with it.
What Is Abdominal Ultrasound?
Abdominal ultrasounds are conducted using an ultrasound machine which utilizes sound waves to capture images within the abdomen. The test is safe, painless and can be used to evaluate various abdominal organs. These include the spleen, gall bladder, liver, appendix, urinary bladder and the intestines as well. An ultrasound can also be used to evaluate all abdominal organs or selective organs. The images captured are in black and white and are documented on a computer monitor.
When Is Abdominal Ultrasound Needed?
There are various reasons why a doctor would require an abdominal ultrasound to be taken. In many cases, the doctor is concerned about the patient’s symptoms and these could be repeated vomiting, abdominal pain or to examine a swollen stomach as well as for kidney and liver function tests. These tests enable the doctor to view the abdominal organs and evaluate them for diseases or injuries.
Ultrasounds are also used to guide doctors during procedures where catheter insertions or biopsies are required, as this helps to ensure that the catheter or needle is well placed.Ultrasounds are also quite common during pregnancies and they help monitor the development of the fetus and its placement.
Some of the conditions that can be diagnosed using ultrasounds are:
- Pyloric stenosis
- Kidney or gall bladder stones
- Abnormal abdominal fluid
- Abnormal masses in the abdomen such as abscesses, cysts or tumors.
How to Prepare for Abdominal Ultrasound
Preparation for an abdominal ultrasound will ultimately depend on the reason of the test. Find out how you can prepare for different ultrasound tests below.
- Aorta ultrasound: When scheduled for an ultrasound of the aorta, you will have to avoid eating before the test for a period of 8 -12 hours.
- Kidney ultrasound: Your doctor may request that you drink a couple glasses of water or juice (usually 4 – 6 glasses) and this is to fill up the bladder. When it comes to food, you will be asked to stay off food for about 8 -12 hours before the ultrasound and this is recommended to avoid having a gas build within the intestines as this may interfere with the kidneys evaluation.
- Liver, spleen, pancreas and gall bladder ultrasounds: You will need to stay of fat before the procedure and this means having a fat free dinner the evening preceding the test. You also need to eat early as you will have to stay off food for 8-12 hours prior to the examination.
What Happens in Abdominal Ultrasound?
As already stated, ultrasounds are painless and simple. The procedure only takes about 30 minutes and in some cases, you will be required to wear a hospital gown to undertake the examination.
How Is It Performed?
Abdominal ultrasounds are performed by Sonographers and these are medical technicians who are specially trained to administrate the test. You will need to lie flat on your back during the examination and a small amount of gel will be applied on the abdomen to help eliminate any air pocket formations between the transducer. A transducer is the instrument used to hover over the abdomen and the skin. It is used to send the images captured to a computer and the technician will monitor the patient’s blood flow within the abdomen to check for any abnormalities or an aneurysm.
After the abdominal ultrasound, the doctor will evaluate the images and then discuss the results with you. If no aneurysms were found, no additional screenings will be required but if you have an aneurysm, you may require further tests. Your doctor will discuss the various treatment options available for your condition.
How Would You Feel?
The procedure is largely comfortable. However, you may feel some pressure as the transducer hovers over the abdomen. The gel is not always warm and in some cases you will feel a cold sensation and you may also feel a little wet. If the procedure is being conducted on your young one, you will need to ask them to lie still during the test so that the sound waves reach all areas of the abdomen that require scanning. Sometimes, the child might have to be restrained during the procedure and while the child might cry, this will not interfere with the ultrasound. The technician may also require that you shift positions and also hold your breath briefly.
Understanding the Results and Other Coping Measures
Usually, the results of the ultrasound are interpreted by a radiologist who will then relay the results to your doctor. Radiologists are trained to read and interpret data from ultrasound and x-ray imaging machines. Your doctor will discuss the results of the abdominal ultrasound with you and in cases where abnormal results were obtained; you might have to undergo further tests.
You don’t always have to wait for ultrasound results and in emergency cases, these results are obtained fast. However in most cases, the results are produced a day or two after the test. Ultrasound results are not usually produced immediately.
Are There Any Risks?
There are no risks that have been associated with ultrasound tests and unlike x-ray imaging tests, no radiation is involved.
Watch the following video for more explanation on how abdominal ultrasound works and what to expect in the process by watching another person going through the test:
Helping Your Child Cope with Abdominal Ultrasound
Younger children are sometimes afraid of undergoing abdominal ultrasounds because of the machinery used. You can relieve these fears by explaining to your child how the ultrasound test is conducted and why it is necessary that they undertake the test. Clarify to your young one that the equipment only takes photos of his belly and also encourage questions. Explain that relaxing during the procedure makes it easier for the technician to examine his belly.