What Can Abdominal Ultrasound Detect?

Abdominal ultrasound helps radiologists assess the health of the organs in the abdomen and can detect various issues and conditions, including:

  • Liver cysts
  • Liver hemangiomas
  • Abdominal aortic aneurysm
  • Hydronephrosis
  • Kidney masses
  • Hepatitis
  • Cirrhosis
  • Pancreatic masses
  • Kidney stones
  • Gallbladder stones
  • Spleen calcifications
  • Fatty liver

Radiologists use ultrasound to examine various masses that can occur on abdominal organs. Most masses of the liver are benign. The most common liver mass is a vascular tangle called a hemangioma. The kidney may contain benign masses like angiomyolipomas or renal cell carcinoma (RCC). The pancreas may harbor small, subtle masses which are difficult to detect clinically. Pancreatic masses may occur in the pancreatic head, where the lesions may produce symptoms, or in the tail, which rarely produces symptoms until later.

Ultrasound is also used as a follow-up test. If a patient is jaundiced or laboratory enzymes are increased, ultrasound can be used to detect gallstones or pancreatitis. Both conditions can show similar symptoms or have similar abnormal laboratory results. If your liver function tests (LFTs) are abnormal, ultrasound can assess if the liver looks anatomically normal, appears inflamed, or contains masses.

What to Expect During an Abdominal Ultrasound

Abdominal ultrasound helps us examine the health of many abdominal organs, allowing us to evaluate potential issues and assess if further testing or treatment is recommended.

Before the Ultrasound
Since ultrasound excels at evaluating fluid-filled organs, we want some organs distended, such as the gallbladder. The gallbladder contracts when exposed to foods, especially fatty foods, so it is important not to eat 4-6 hours before the abdominal ultrasound so we can evaluate all the organs fully. Most people schedule the imaging study first thing in the morning so they can eat breakfast afterward.

Prepare for your abdominal ultrasound by doing the following:

  • Avoid drinking coffee in the morning, besides a few sips without cream or sugar.
  • Avoid eating 4-6 hours before the abdominal ultrasound
  • If you need to take any medications in the morning, you can take them with water, as water consumption will not interfere with the ultrasound study.

When your symptoms are vague and cannot be easily localized, your clinician may order both an abdominal and a pelvic ultrasound. In this case, try to schedule the appointment first thing in the morning. 

During the Ultrasound

To look at the abdominal organs, the ultrasound technologist uses a handheld transducer called a probe to capture images. Ultrasound gel is used with the transducer to create air-free contact with your skin, as ultrasound travels better through water-based solutions. You will feel gentle pressure while the technologist performs your imaging to eliminate the air gap.

The ultrasound gel also allows the technologist to efficiently move across the entire abdomen to perform the scan and document the images of the study. The wand is gently curved so the technologist can angle the probe at various angles.

After the Ultrasound
Depending on what we find, we may recommend additional steps or procedures. For example, if we see a potential familial genetic trend in a patient with a family history of pancreatic and breast cancer, we may recommend genetic counseling. If we see multiple gallbladder polyps, we may suggest following up more closely with your gastroenterologist. We work closely with other specialists, such as gastroenterologists (GI specialists), genetic counselors, nephrologists (kidney specialists), and surgeons to ensure there is a smooth and efficient distinct care process in place for you at all times. 

Abdominal Ultrasound Near Me

Meet Our Specialists

At The Women’s Imaging Center, our technologists and fellowship trained physicians with decades of experience use state-of-the-art technology to provide the best comprehensive imaging services to our patients. Our goal is to ensure you have access to the highest level of care when it comes to your imaging needs. Founded over 27 years ago, we are Colorado’s only Comprehensive Women’s Imaging Center. 

Kelly McAleese, M.D.

Timothy Colt, M.D.

Barbara Jaegar, M.D.

John Lewin, M.D.


Frequently Asked Questions About Abdominal Ultrasounds

When would my Doctor order an Abdominal Ultrasound?

An Ultrasound of the abdomen may be ordered by your physician to get a detailed look at the abdominal organs, including the liver, gallbladder, pancreas, kidneys, and spleen. Although some gas-filled organs, including the stomach, small intestine, and large intestine, are considered part of the abdomen anatomically, Abdominal Ultrasound is not optimal to evaluate these organs. The vascular system is not functionally related to the abdominal organs; however, the abdominal aorta passes through the abdomen and is evaluated in Abdominal Ultrasound Imaging.  

Which abdominal organs can be seen with ultrasound?

Ultrasound is ideal for obtaining images of fluid-filled organs. The gallbladder is the only purely fluid-filled organ in the abdomen. Your clinician will frequently order an abdominal ultrasound to get more information on the abdomen's solid organs, including the liver, kidneys, pancreas, and spleen. Some abdominal organs, such as the stomach and small and large bowels, are gas-filled, meaning an ultrasound will not be optimal to evaluate these organs.

What is a renal ultrasound?

Your clinician may only want to evaluate a single functional system within the intra-abdominal cavity. If you have frequent urinary tract infections (UTIs) or pelvic floor problems, an ultrasound may be limited to the urogenital system, called a renal or kidney and bladder ultrasound. The imaging evaluates the kidneys for masses, calcifications, or ureter obstruction called hydronephrosis.

The bladder is also evaluated, so it needs to be full at the start of the study. Your technologist may scan you first with a filled bladder, then ask you to empty your bladder and scan again. This quantitative evaluation of the bladder before and after emptying your bladder is called a Post Void Residual.

Why is abdominal ultrasound useful for scanning the aorta?

Ultrasound is the first-line imaging scan for detecting a focal enlargement of the abdominal aorta called an aneurysm. Calcification of the abdominal aorta can also be identified as a sign of atherosclerosis.

Why is ultrasound used after an abnormal liver function test (LFT)?

When a LFT is abnormal, an ultrasound can determine if the liver is inflamed or contains masses. Liver function tests are very sensitive to alcohol use and medications since the liver's primary function is to detoxify. The ultrasound imaging looks different for an enlarged, inflamed liver called hepatitis versus a shrunken liver with long-standing liver disease like cirrhosis.

Insurance Options We Honor

At the Women's Imaging Center, we accept most major insurance providers and provide affordable self-pay options. If you have any questions about whether we accept your insurance, please contact us at 303-321-2273.

Schedule My Abdominal Ultrasound

At The Women’s Imaging Center, we can provide a clear diagnosis of any concerns related to your abdominal organs with our state-of-the-art equipment and expertly trained radiologists. Visit one of our many Denver locations located conveniently near you.