What is an abdominal ultrasound scan?

Ultrasound scans are an effective way of assessing a number of the organs in the abdomen. High-resolution images of the liver, spleen, kidneys, gall bladder, pancreas and urinary bladder are attainable.

Since ultrasound does not involve radiation and is non-invasive it is commonly employed as the initial imaging investigation for abdominal pain and other abdominal symptoms. Not all causes of pain are identifiable on the ultrasound and further investigations may be requested.

What preparation is required?

Upper Abdominal Ultrasound

You must have nothing to eat for six hours before your examination. A small amount of water may be taken.

Renal Ultrasound

You will need to finish drinking one litre of water-based fluid one hour before your appointment so you arrive with a full bladder.

Try not to empty your bladder.

If you get to a point where you are very uncomfortable you may partially empty the bladder but try to retain as much urine as is possible so that the scan can still be performed. If your bladder is not sufficiently full, this may delay the scan or cause the scan to be rebooked.

What will happen during the examination?

You may be asked to change into a gown and possibly remove jewellery.

You will lie on an examination table and the  sonographer, who will perform your scan, will apply ultrasound gel to your abdomen. This allows for good contact between the skin and the ultrasound transducer. For each abdominal organ, there are routine images that will be sought. There may be times when the sonographer scans an area of your abdomen where you are not tender. This is to build up a complete picture of the abdomen and look for causes of referred pain.

Where a renal scan is requested, we usually look at the urinary bladder first. This means that if you have a full bladder you should be able to empty the bladder just a few minutes after the scan begins.

When the sonographer has completed the scan, they will discuss the imaging with the radiologist (specialist medical imaging doctor).

Are there any risks?

Ultrasound scans utilise high-frequency sound waves (mechanical vibrations) when producing images. No ionising radiation is used. Ultrasound has been used in medicine since the 1950’s and there have been no confirmed adverse effects attributed to diagnostic ultrasound exposure in this time.

After the examination

The images will be reviewed and reported by our radiologist. This can take up to 90 minutes. For your convenience, we can generally deliver the imaging and report to your doctor by the next working day. Alternatively, your doctor may request that you wait or return later to collect the imaging and report.