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Abdominal Ultrasound

Ultrasound is a scanning technique used to evaluate the state of internal organs. One of the most common areas for ultrasound testing is the abdomen. The principles of ultrasound are similar to those of the submarines. High frequency sound waves are emitted through a tube called transducer into the abdomen. Once the waves hit the object an echo is produced and the images are revealed on a screen. Based on the echo the person administering the test is able to assess the shape and size of the organ as well as notice any masses of cells such as tumors. In addition, the organs that can be evaluated using the abdominal ultrasound include liver, gallbladder, spleen, pancreas, kidneys, bladder, and the abdominal aorta. In most cases the ultrasound is not invasive and is therefore painless. Transvaginal and transrectal exams involve penetration and are also used for extracting cells to be tested for pathological changes. Blood flow, veins, arteries, and blood vessels can also be analyzed using a special ultrasound technique called the Doppler effect. A radiologist is able to insert a dye into the patient intravenously and follow it as it makes its way from organ to organ through the blood stream. It should be noted that unlike X-Rays, ultrasound does not emit radiation and does not expose the patients to any adverse effects.

When To Get Ultrasound?

Medical care providers will send patients for ultrasound if they are complaining of a number of different symptoms. For instance, those who are suffering from unidentified abdominal pain are likely to be referred for an ultrasound exam. Individuals who are over 65, are smoking, and are also suspected of having an aneurysm in the aorta will also be sent for an ultrasound. The test may be recommended for liver checkups or diagnosing jaundice, cirrhosis, fatty deposits, or overall functioning of the liver. Inflammation of the gallbladder or the presence of stones can also be determined, and so can the obstruction of bile ducts. Fluid build up in the abdomen can also be detected. Ultrasound is used to guide the needle during the extraction procedures to remove the excess liquid or during biopsies. Ultrasound is also able to differentiate between cysts and tumors in internal organs. Obstruction of urine flow in kidneys and bladder can also be determined using ultrasound. Possible causes of repeated urinary tract infections can also be discovered. The person’s reaction to therapy is also manifested through ultrasound. When organs are transplanted the recovery is followed via ultrasound. Any changes on the spleen and pancreas are easily determined as well.

How To Prepare

Preparation for ultrasound examination is relatively simple. In the case of abdominal ultrasound the bladder needs to be full in most cases in order to get the reliable results. The test will be performed before and after voiding and the results compared to determine whether there are any significant changes.  Eating a fat free dinner the night before the test is recommended for pancreas, gallbladder, liver, and spleen ultrasound. Valid results are also obtained if the person does not eat 8 to 12 hours prior to the test. The same type of food restrain is advised for the aorta ultrasound. In the case of kidneys patients are advised not to eat for the same period of time to avoid any gas build up in the intestines that might obstruct the view. The bladder needs to be full for the kidney ultrasound.

What to Expect

The ultrasound equipment consists of a transducer, video screen, computer, and electronics. The test is either performed by a trained technician or by a radiologist. Most hospitals are equipped with ultrasound machines and so are smaller medical centers. Patients are advised to wear comfortable clothing and to leave jewelry at home. They will be asked to take the clothes off and put on a disposable paper robe. During the test the patient will lie on a table face up and might be asked to switch positions to get the best view.  In the case of kidney ultrasounds the person needs to lie on the side. Also, the patient will need to hold their breath for a few seconds during the test so that there is no movement and any blockages are seen clearly. The liver and spleen are pushed outside the rib cage and lower into the belly when the person is not breathing so it is easier to assess them. The technician will put clear gel on the abdomen in order to facilitate the process. The transducer is then rubbed again the abdomen and the results are available on the screen immediately. The technician will probably discuss them with the patient as well as send an official report to the referring doctor who will either make a diagnosis or send the person for further testing. The test should not take more than half an hour. The person is often asked to wait a couple of minutes after the exam for the technician to make sure the images are clearly visible and no further testing is required.

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