Abdominal ultrasound is the preferred test to screen for an aortic aneurysm. But it may be done for other health reasons, too. Learn why and how it’s done.
An abdominal ultrasound is done to view structures inside the abdomen. It's the preferred screening method for an abdominal aortic aneurysm, a weakened, bulging spot in the abdominal aorta — the major blood vessel that supplies blood to the body. However, the imaging test may be used to diagnose or rule out many other health conditions.
Doctors recommend an abdominal ultrasound to screen for an abdominal aortic aneurysm in men ages 65 to 75 who are current or former cigarette smokers. If you've never smoked, abdominal aortic aneurysm screening isn't recommended for men (or women), unless your doctor suspects you may have an aneurysm or if you have a family history of an aneurysm.
Why it's done
An abdominal ultrasound can help your doctor see many organs in your abdomen. Your doctor may recommend this test if you have a problem in any of these body areas:
- Blood vessels in the abdomen
An abdominal ultrasound can help your doctor evaluate the cause of stomach pain or bloating. It can help check for kidney stones, liver disease, tumors and many other conditions.
Your doctor may recommend that you have an abdominal ultrasound if you're at risk of an abdominal aortic aneurysm. A one-time abdominal aortic ultrasound screening is recommended for men between the ages of 65 and 75 who have smoked at least 100 cigarettes during their lifetimes.
Routine screening for abdominal aortic aneurysms isn't recommended for women. Also, it's unclear if men who have never smoked may benefit from ultrasound screening for an abdominal aortic aneurysm.
Abdominal ultrasound is a safe procedure that uses low-power sound waves. There are no known risks.
How you prepare
You typically need to avoid food and drinks (fast) for eight to 12 hours before an abdominal ultrasound. Food and liquids in your stomach (and urine in your bladder) can make it difficult for the technician to get a clear picture of the structures in your abdomen.
Ask your doctor if it's OK to drink water during your fast, and if you should continue to take any medications.
What you can expect
Before the procedure
Before the abdominal ultrasound, you may be asked to change into a hospital gown and to remove any jewelry. You'll be asked to lie on your back on an examination table.
During the procedure
A trained technician (sonographer) usually performs the abdominal ultrasound. The technician applies a small amount of warm gel to your abdomen. The gel works with the ultrasound device, called a transducer, to provide better images.
The sonographer gently presses the transducer against your stomach area, moving it back and forth. The device sends signals to a computer, which creates images that show how blood flows through the structures in your abdomen.
A typical ultrasound exam takes about 30 minutes to complete. It's usually painless. However, you may have some temporary discomfort if the technician presses on an area that is sore or tender.
After the procedure
You should be able to return to normal activities immediately after an abdominal ultrasound.
After an abdominal ultrasound, your doctor will discuss the results with you at a later time.
Usually, if no aneurysm or other problems are found, your doctor won't recommend any additional screenings.
If an aneurysm or another problem is found, together you and your doctor will decide on a treatment plan, which may involve additional screening, monitoring (watchful waiting) or surgery.