An abdominal ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves to see structures inside your belly. This test checks the health of your abdominal organs — like your liver, gallbladder and kidneys — and the blood vessels that lead to them.
An abdominal ultrasound is a type of imaging test. It uses high-frequency sound waves to create pictures of the organs and blood vessels in your belly (abdomen).
You might hear healthcare providers use the term sonogram. Generally, “ultrasound” refers to the test, and “sonogram” refers to the image the test produces.
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There are several reasons why a healthcare provider may recommend an abdominal ultrasound. One of the most common is to check on a developing fetus throughout pregnancy. Providers often call this test a prenatal ultrasound.
Ultrasound can also check parts of your digestive system, including your:
A complete abdominal ultrasound examines those three organs, as well as your:
Abdominal ultrasound may also help pinpoint the cause of unexplained abdomen (stomach) pain. It can help diagnose conditions, as well, like:
Ultrasound uses sound waves you can’t hear to take pictures of soft tissues inside your body. To capture these images, a provider glides a handheld wand (transducer) over your abdomen.
The ultrasound machine sends out high-frequency sound waves that bounce off structures like organs, blood vessels and other soft tissues. A computer receives these signals and uses them to create pictures.
Your healthcare provider will give you complete instructions before your ultrasound. Follow their guidelines to ensure the most accurate test results.
Your provider may ask you to stop eating or drinking some hours before your test. In some cases, you may need to drink a specific amount of water right before your test. Or you may not need to prepare at all.
Depending on your situation, you might need to fast before your abdominal ultrasound. Having a full (or empty) bladder or stomach can sometimes lead to blurry images. Ask your provider if you should fast before your appointment.
For an abdominal ultrasound, you’ll lie on your back on a comfortable table. You’ll need to pull up or remove your shirt or put on a hospital gown.
During the test, a healthcare provider:
If your provider wants to study your blood vessels, your test may include Doppler ultrasound. Doppler sound waves detect details of how blood flows inside your blood vessels.
On average, an abdominal ultrasound usually takes 30 minutes to complete. But it could take more or less time depending on your situation.
Yes, ultrasound is a safe and accurate imaging test. Unlike X-ray imaging, ultrasound doesn’t use radiation (which can cause health issues at high doses). Ultrasound has no known side effects.
After your test, a radiologist (doctor who specializes in reading medical images) will review your ultrasound pictures. Then they’ll write a report of their findings and send it to your primary care physician (PCP). In most cases, this takes about one week or less.
Providers sometimes use ultrasound to diagnose potentially life-threatening conditions in an emergency. If your provider suspects an urgent concern, you’ll get results right away.
If you need an abdominal ultrasound, here are some questions you may want to ask your provider:
It depends. Drinking small amounts of water with daily medication is usually OK. But your provider might need you to fast for eight hours before your exam. If you’re not sure, ask your healthcare provider what you need to do in the hours leading up to your appointment.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
If you need an abdominal ultrasound, it’s normal to wonder what to expect the day of your test. Ultrasound imaging is safe and noninvasive. In most cases, it only takes about 30 minutes. Your healthcare provider can talk to you about why you need an ultrasound and what you can expect once you get your results.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 07/11/2023.
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