A diagnostic ultrasound (sonogram) is an examination of the internal organs in the abdomen using high-frequency sound waves. If a Doppler ultrasound is performed, the doctor can see blood flow in major blood vessels.

Parts of the body involved:

An abdominal ultrasound can examine the following:

  • Abdomen
  • Liver
  • Spleen
  • Pancreas
  • Gallbladder
  • Kidneys
  • Ovaries and uterus (including pregnant uterus and fetus within)
  • Aorta and other abdominal arteries (via Doppler ultrasound)

Reasons for the procedure:

Ultrasound produces real-time images of soft tissue and can capture the movement of internal organs. Therefore, it is used to visualize and diagnose problems inside the abdominal cavity. A diagnostic ultrasound is most often performed for the following reasons:

  • To diagnose an injury or disease of the liver, gallbladder, spleen, pancreas, kidneys or other organs inside the abdomen
  • To help determine the cause of abdominal pain
  • To identify gallbladder or kidney stones
  • To assess for tumors, cysts, abscesses or other masses in the abdomen
  • To help determine why an internal organ is enlarged
  • To examine a pregnant uterus and the fetus within
  • To evaluate the aorta for the presence of an aneurysm
  • To evaluate the narrowing of the arteries in the abdomen
  • To assess a spleen injury
  • To evaluate liver disease or pancreatitis
  • To locate a foreign object in the abdomen, such as a bullet

Risk factors that may lead to complications:

  • Both obesity and dehydration can make it more difficult to identify organs during the test.
  • Air in the intestines may block views of the internal organs.
  • The presence of barium or other contrast materials in the intestine can block views of the internal organs (therefore, abdominal ultrasound should be done before other diagnostic imaging tests that require contrast material).

What to expect before the procedure:

  • Your doctor will likely perform a physical exam and sometimes blood tests and other tests.
  • When making the appointment, ask about dietary instructions. You may be asked to fast for eight to 12 hours before the test to decrease the amount of gas in the intestines. For some types of ultrasounds, a full bladder helps visualization. In these cases, you will be asked to drink six or more glasses of water and not urinate before the scan.
  • Wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothing.

During the procedure:

The patient will lie still on a flat table in a darkened room. The darkness helps the technician see images on the screen.



Description of the procedure:

The technician applies a conductive gel to the abdomen and presses a transducer against the skin. This small, hand-held device converts energy from one form to another. The gel helps transmit sound waves between the skin and the transducer because these waves cannot travel through the air.

The transducer sends high-frequency sound waves toward the internal organs, which reflect the sound waves to the skin. The transducer receives these sound waves and converts them into electrical impulses that become a visible image on the echocardiography machine.

The technician watches the images as they appear on the machine's screen. The technician can capture a still image or videotape moving images for review later. The technician may move the transducer to different places on the abdomen to obtain clearer and more complete images. You may be asked to change positions or hold your breath during the exam.

After the procedure:

Clean gel off the abdomen.

How long will it take?

About 30 minutes.

Will it hurt?

No. An ultrasound is not invasive or painful. The gel may feel cold when it is first applied, and holding the transducer tightly against the skin produces a sensation of pressure and, in some cases, discomfort. For instance, pressure on a full bladder feels uncomfortable.

Possible complications:


Average hospital stay:


Postoperative care:

Clean the gel off your skin. Resume normal activities unless directed otherwise by the doctor.


A radiologist analyzes and interprets the images created by the ultrasound and gives a report to your doctor. Your doctor will make recommendations for treatment based on this report.

Call your doctor if any of the following occurs:

Your symptoms become worse.