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Ultrasound of the upper abdomen -- everything you need to know

Dr Rashmi Parikh explains everything you need to know about ultrasound of the upper abdomen.

If your doctor suspects a kidney disease or distention of the stomach, you might be advised to undergo an ultrasound of the upper abdomen. Unlike X-rays, where radiations are passed through the body to get a picture, in the case of ultrasound, sound waves are passed to get a clear image of the organs inside. So before you get an ultrasound of the upper abdomen, here's what you need to be aware of. Dr Rashmi Parikh, Consultant Radiologist, Balabhai Nanavati Hospital, Mumbai explains what you need to know, before, during and after an ultrasound of the upper abdomen.

Why is an ultrasound of the upper abdomen performed?

An ultrasound of the upper abdomen is usually carried out to evaluate diseases and conditions of organs present in the upper abdomen namely liver, kidneys, gallbladder, pancreas and spleen. It helps in the diagnosis of various symptoms like abdominal pain or distention, kidney disease due to abnormal RFT (renal function test), liver problems from an abnormal LFT (liver function test), gall bladder stones or kidney stones and enlargement of the abdomen. Moreover, an ultrasound can be used as guidance for biopsies. Here's more on ultrasounds during pregnancy.

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Do I need to take any precautions before the examination?

The patients are usually recommended to fast overnight or 8- 10 hours before the examination. If not possible, then in some cases even fasting for 4 - 6 hours might do. In some cases, the patient might be asked to eat a fat-free meal. For ultrasound of the kidneys, you might be recommended to drink four to six glasses of water before the examination to fill the bladder. Apart from this, wearing loose clothes is preferred.

How does it work?

Ultrasound imaging works on the principle of sonar imaging, in which sound waves are passed through an object and bounce back only to get captured by the transducer. The equipment consistent of a transducer and a display screen, which displays the scanned images. A transducer looks like a microphone, which sends sound waves to the organ under examination and captures the echoes to display images.

How is an ultrasound done?

The patient is recommended to lie facing up, on an examination table, which can be tilted. Then the radiologist will apply a gel to the skin where the organ is to be examined. The gel helps in eliminating air pockets between the skin and the transducer and aids in securing proper contact with the skin and the transducer. The transducer is moved until the desired images are captured. The gel is wiped off the skin once the examination is done. Also read about why endoscopy ultrasound is better than conventional endoscopy.

Is the gel harmful?

The gel is known as a coupling gel which is used only to improve the contact between the transducer and the skin for better images of the organs. The gel is non-toxic and does not cause any skin problems. Moreover, it usually dries off and not even stain the clothes.

Will I experience pain during the procedure?

Unlike X-rays which have minimal side-effects, ultrasound is relatively safe. Moreover, it does not cause any pain. However, in some case, it might be a bit of uncomfortable for the patient but not painful. Also, the patient might be asked to hold the breath for some time (breathing intermittently) for accurate results.

How long does the examination take?

The test can be completed within 30 minutes. However, in some cases, you might be asked to sit outside for some time before doing the second test. Also, you might be asked to move a little while doing the examination to get accurate images.

When can I get the results?

The radiologist will interpret the results on the same day. You might be asked to wait for 10 minutes to 20 minutes for the results. A follow-up examination might be recommended to know if the treatment is working and also to monitor any change or abnormality. Also read about chest X-ray everything you need to know

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