What Is a Whole Abdomen Ultrasound?
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Whole Abdomen Ultrasound - Uses, Preparation, Procedure, Advantage, Limitations, and Alternatives

Published on Aug 24, 2022 and last reviewed on Mar 06, 2023   -  5 min read


Whole abdomen ultrasound is an imaging technique to look at the organs in the abdomen. Read this article to know more about whole abdomen ultrasound.


Whole abdominal ultrasound is a non-invasive imaging procedure used to assess the aorta, inferior vena cava (IVC), pancreas, liver, gallbladder, right and left kidneys, and spleen.

Ultrasound images of the abdomen restricted to a single organ or restricted abdominal organ are called limited abdomen ultrasounds. It only provides images of the pancreas, liver, gallbladder, and right kidney.

What Is an Ultrasound?

Ultrasound is a diagnostic tool that captures the images of soft tissues inside the body using sound waves. Ultrasound imaging is also called a sonogram. During the ultrasound, a handheld probe called the transducer produces high-frequency sound waves which bounce off the organs and are received by the transducer. The transducer processes the reflected waves, which are then converted by the computer into images of the organs.

The sound waves travel at different speeds depending on the type of tissue. It can travel fastest through bone tissue and slowest through the air. The speed of the sound waves and the amount of the sound waves returned to the transducer determine the types of tissue.

In a Doppler ultrasound called a duplex study, a special ultrasound technique is used in which the sound waves are audible during the scan. It is useful for the detection of the speed and direction of blood flow. The movement of the blood cells causes a change in pitch of the reflected sound waves (Doppler effect). The images are processed as graphs or color pictures on the computer. Normal ultrasound shows only the structures of the organs but cannot show the blood flow.

What Are the Uses of a Whole Abdomen Ultrasound?

Whole abdomen ultrasound is used to detect :

How Will You Prepare for Your Whole Abdomen Ultrasound?

For morning appointments, you should have a fat-free diet the evening before the scan. You should not eat or drink from the previous night till the scan. For a noon appointment, you can have a clear liquid diet before 9 am. You should not eat or drink after your breakfast.

When you eat before the scan, your gall bladder contracts and releases bile to digest the food, which may not look normal in the ultrasound. If an ultrasound pelvis is taken, the female patients may be asked to drink 32 ounces (0.95 liters) of water one hour before the scan for better visualization of pelvic organs. You can take your regular medicines with a small sip of water.

How Is a Whole Abdomen Ultrasound Done?

For a whole abdominal ultrasound, you will be asked to lie down on a flat table. You have to remove any objects or clothes that interfere with the scan and wear the apron given by them. The radiologist or diagnostic medical sonographer will apply a water-soluble gel over the area of the belly, which will be imaged. This gel may feel cool, and it does not cause any pain. The radiologist will gently move a probe called a transducer over the skin on top of the gel. They move the probe back and forth to get the images clearly. You may need to change your body positions to look at different areas and, for a few seconds, be asked to hold your breath to get better images. After that, they will wipe off the gel over the abdomen.

If your technician detects your blood vessels, your test may include a Doppler ultrasound to detect the details of blood flow inside your blood vessels. This procedure usually takes about 30 minutes or less. After the scan, your radiologist reviews the images and sends the report to your physician. You can follow your regular diet and regular activities after the scan.

What Are the Factors Affecting the Whole Abdomen Ultrasound?

  • Severe Obesity- The greater amount of tissues in overweight patients may weaken the sound waves to pass through.

  • Barium - Barium within intestine from the recent barium swallow study (a liquid you swallow which helps to see your upper gastrointestinal tract).

  • Intestinal Gas - A mix of odorless vapors, including oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, hydrogen, and methane.

What Are the Advantages of Whole Abdomen Ultrasound?

  • Non-invasive.

  • Occasionally, it is uncomfortable, but it is not painful.

  • Easy to use.

  • Less expensive.

  • Clear images when compared to X-rays.

  • Does not require radiation and contrast materials.

What Are the Limitations of Whole Abdomen Ultrasound?

  • Acute Appendicitis- Inflamed appendix is difficult to visualize in abdomen ultrasound without clinical examination.

  • Sigmoid colon volvulus (air-filled sigmoid colon twists around its blood supply axis) and bile duct cancer cannot be diagnosed in abdomen ultrasound due to the presence of intestinal gas.

  • It is not useful in imaging air-filled lungs.

  • In ultrasound, the sound waves cannot penetrate bone.

How Is the Whole Abdomen Ultrasound Used as a Guiding Tool?

Whole abdomen ultrasound is used as a guiding tool for diagnosis and treatment purposes.

  • Ultrasound-guided Fine-needle Aspiration Cytology (FNAC): Ultrasound is used to locate the abnormality in the FNAC procedure. FNAC is a diagnostic procedure in which a small needle is inserted into the suspicious mass to collect some cells, which are then visualized under a microscope.

  • Ultrasound-guided Biopsy: It uses sound waves to locate the abnormality and helps remove the sample tissue surgically, which is then visualized under a microscope.

  • Cyst and Ascites: It also helps in the treatment of cysts and ascites by guiding the treatment. With the help of ultrasound, doctors can drain the fluid from cysts and ascites.

Whole abdomen ultrasound may be used as a screening tool for abdominal aortic aneurysms in men between the ages of 65 to 75 who are smokers and also in people with a family history of abdominal aortic aneurysms.

What Are the Alternatives for Whole Abdomen Ultrasound?


Whole abdomen ultrasound is excellent at visualizing abdominal soft tissues. It is a widely available, cost-effective imaging technique. Though ultrasound cannot pass through bone tissues, it may be useful in imaging bone fractures and issues surrounding the bone. The major advantage of this scan is that it does not use radiation for imaging.

Frequently Asked Questions


What Is the Goal of The Whole Abdomen Ultrasound?

The purpose of the abdominal ultrasound is to check for any abnormalities in the abdominal cavity organs. These organs include the kidney, liver, pancreas, gallbladder, and spleen. Ultrasound is an imaging technique that uses sound waves to look inside your abdominal cavity.


Do I Need to Drink Water Before the Ultrasound Abdomen?

No, You should stop drinking and eating foods eight to 12 hours before the abdomen ultrasound. As the food in the stomach makes it very difficult for the technician to view the structures in the abdomen clearly. However, drinking water is essential for taking an ultrasound of the pelvic 


What Are the Diseases That Ultrasound Detects?

Ultrasound is able to diagnose several diseases in the abdomen cavity, which includes abnormal growths like tumor or cancer, gallstones, kidney or bladder stones, aortic aneurysm, spleen enlargement, blood clots, ectopic pregnancy, and inflammatory conditions in the organs of the abdominal cavity.


Does Ultrasound Detect Infection?

The more reliable method of identifying infection than the clinical exam is ultrasound. Ultrasound helps to identify skin and soft infections, abscess cavities, or deeper infections. Pelvic infection is specifically determined by the endovaginal ultrasound.


Does Constipation Affect Ultrasound?

Constipation does not affect the ultrasound of rectal distension. In fact, ultrasound is a simple and non-invasive method of diagnosing rectal problems. In adults, chronic constipation is assessed by ultrasound. It also helps to locate fecal retention.


How Much Water to Drink Before an Abdominal Ultrasound?

You should drink water only for the pelvic ultrasound scan on the day before the appointment. You can drink 32 ounces (two bottles) of water one hour before the exam. Maintain your bladder full until the ultrasound exam is complete.


When Do You Get the Ultrasound Results?

The time taken to get ultrasound results depends on the type of ultrasound scan you take. However, the test usually completes within 30 minutes. The device screen shows the ultrasound scanned images, and the doctor will interpret the results immediately.


Which Is Good: CT Scan or Ultrasound?

Both CT scans and ultrasounds reliably detect the common diagnosis of the abdomen. But CT is unable to detect fewer cases as compared to ultrasound of the abdomen. In order to detect abnormalities in the abdomen, ultrasound is the first line of investigation.


Are Ultrasounds Safe?

Ultrasound is found safe as it uses sound waves to take images rather than radiation which is more harmful. Ultrasounds have been used for ages to look for the fetus in pregnancy, and there is no evidence that ultrasound could cause damage to the developing fetus. However, high levels of exposure can cause permanent damage to the living tissues.


What Do You Mean by Abdominal Ultrasound Limited?

Abdominal ultrasounds are of two types, complete and limited. Limited abdominal ultrasound includes an ultrasound of the pancreas, liver, gall bladder, and right kidney, whereas complete abdominal ultrasound includes the aorta, inferiorvenacava, pancreas, spleen, liver, right and left kidneys, and gall bladder.


What Are the Complications of Abdominal Ultrasound?

Compared to CT (computed tomography) scans or X-rays, ultrasounds are considered safe. The use of ultrasound does not expose the patient to radiation, unlike X-rays. That is why doctors prefer ultrasound to view the fetus in pregnant women than other scans. Ultrasounds are painless procedures, and there are no side effects.

Last reviewed at:
06 Mar 2023  -  5 min read




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