An ultrasound of the abdomen routinely looks at abdominal structures like the liver, gallbladder, bile duct, pancreas, spleen, kidneys, and aorta. The test Is done for abdominal symptoms or to take a closer look at an abnormality seen on another imaging test.
What is an abdominal ultrasound?
An abdominal ultrasound is done by a specially trained technologist. It does not use radiation but instead uses sound waves which enter the body and then are reflected back by tissues and produce an image on the ultrasound machine. An ultrasound is more dependent on the skill of the technologist then other tests. Patients who are large or who have a lot of gas in bowel may not get as good a test result.
What does an ultrasound of the abdomen show?
Abdominal ultrasound of the liver may show cysts, masses, blocked blood vessels, and dilated bile ducts. Cysts are confidently diagnosed with ultrasound. Many masses need further testing with CT or MRI for diagnosis. Dilated bile ducts are well seen with ultrasound. We often do not know the cause based on ultrasound alone. Additional testing with MRI may be needed.
Abdominal ultrasound of the gallbladder is one of the best tests for the gallbladder. We can see sludge, stones, masses and inflammation of the gallbladder or cholecystitis. Gallstones are a common cause of pain in the right upper abdomen. Cholecystitis is when the gallbladder becomes inflamed.
Abdominal ultrasound of the pancreas can show us cysts, masses, a dilated pancreatic duct, collections around the pancreas to name some. The pancreas is sometimes not well seen because it is a deep structure and located behind bowel loops.
We can see the spleen which is in the left side of the abdomen. The spleen helps with fighting infections in the blood and filters the blood. The spleen can have cysts, masses, infarcts, and infections. Ultrasound can sometimes identify abnormalities but further testing may be needed to say what the finding is.
The kidneys are evaluated on abdominal ultrasound. We can see kidney stones, cysts, masses, and blocked kidneys or Hydronephrosis. The kidney size can be assessed. We can look for scarring and blood flow. Some abnormalities such as masses or blocked kidneys may need further imaging with CT.
We can image the aorta. We most commonly see aneurysms of the aorta on ultrasound. The inferior vena cava is also imaged and is one of the major veins in the abdomen. We can also assess blood flow in the blood vessels with ultrasound.
Abdominal ultrasound is a comprehensive test of multiple abdominal structures. It allows us to see many abnormalities like cysts, masses, cancers, and infections to name some. Some abnormalities seen on ultrasound will require additional imaging with CT or MRI. Ultrasound is often a great start to a workup as it is relatively fast, inexpensive compared to other tests and uses no radiation.