An abdominal ultrasound is one of the imaging investigations that the specialist recommends in order to establish the diagnosis in the case of a patient with gastroenterological problems and more.
An abdominal ultrasound is an ultrasound-based imaging investigation that examines intra-abdominal organs, vessels, and tissues. The abdominal ultrasound is a quick, non-irradiating method of diagnosis that can be repeated whenever needed and is not painful. The device (called a probe) is applied to the patient’s body and emits ultrasound directed at the abdominal organs and tissues and then receives the reflected waves and transmits them back to the ultrasound unit. The images obtained are in shades of gray, black and white.
What is an ultrasound investigation and when is it recommended?
An abdominal ultrasound is performed using a probe. This probe passes over the investigated portion and transmits the ultrasound reflected by the different tissues to the screen of the device. Before performing the ultrasound, the doctor applies a special gel on the portion to be investigated. The gel facilitates the contact of the probe with the skin. In most cases, the patient lies on the bed during the procedure.
Given that it is a non-invasive and non-radiant investigation, it is a good idea to perform it during the annual health assessment. Sometimes it should be repeated at shorter intervals (3-6 months) in people with chronic liver disease or for the follow-up of liver or pancreatic nodules.
How is an abdominal ultrasound performed?
For optimal visualization, the abdominal ultrasound is performed after fasting for 4-5 hours and with a full bladder. During the investigation, the patient is usually lying on the consultation bed with their face up and their abdomen uncovered.
A transparent gel with a role in creating an ultrasound transmission medium emitted by the ultrasound probe is spread over the area to be examined and the probe is placed on the abdomen, applying light pressure.
The ultrasound evaluation of the intra-abdominal organs, vessels and tissues is performed in a certain order, specific to each examiner. Several organs are superimposed on the upper abdomen and intestinal gas is interposed, so the patient is asked to take a deep breath and stop breathing for a few seconds to obtain relevant images.
Sometimes changing the patient’s position to the right or left side may be helpful in removing gas. The ultrasound probe is disinfected with a spray after the examination.
When is abdominal ultrasound indicated?
The abdominal ultrasound is the first useful investigation in examining a patient with abdominal or lumbar pain, which is also the most common cause for an abdominal ultrasound. Other situations or symptoms in which an abdominal ultrasound is indicated are:
- periodic ultrasound evaluation with the role of prevention in the absence of any sign or symptom of the disease;
- increase of the volume of the abdomen;
- tumor formations that are palpable in the abdomen;
- persistent bloating;
- unexplained weight loss;
- chronic diarrhea;
- sudden onset of constipation;
- frequent urination;
- diagnosis and monitoring of chronic liver or kidney disease;
- evaluation of the genitals;
- posttransplant of various organs (liver, kidneys);
- oncological monitoring – useful in the early detection of possible tumor recurrences;
- monitoring the effectiveness of some treatments;
- haematological diseases, anemia or other changes in blood tests;
- malnutrition or growth disorders in children;
- following abdominal trauma.
Given the many benefits (no side effects, discomfort, speed, accessibility), the abdominal ultrasound is often the first exploration indicated in digestive disorders and allows guidance of subsequent investigations.
At what age is an abdominal ultrasound recommended?
The abdominal ultrasound can be performed without risk at any age. It can be indicated in newborns and children, as well as in the elderly or pregnant or breastfeeding women. Abdominal ultrasounds are non-radiant and repetitive, and can be performed whenever there are signs or symptoms of the disease. For the general asymptomatic population, an abdominal ultrasound screening is useful after the age of 40 and can be performed annually or every two years, with the role of early detection of organ diseases.
There is a special category of patients who need constant ultrasound evaluation, namely patients with chronic liver or kidney disease and cancer patients with various types of cancer.
Particular attention should be paid to patients with chronic and acute hepatitis: acute or chronic hepatitis of viral, ethanolic or autoimmune etiology that can progress to liver cirrhosis and ultimately to liver cancer. In these situations, the ultrasound has the role of monitoring the evolution of the disease and the early detection of complications.
The Benefits of a DigestMed Ultrasound
Specialized Department of Gastroenterology
To have a quality abdominal ultrasound, it is important to consult a gastroenterologist, gastroenterology being the medical specialty that deals with most problems that can be identified by ultrasound.
DigestMed provides you with a specialized medical team of professional gastroenterologists who have extensive experience and expertise in the treatment of digestive diseases and more.
Modern medical equipment
In order to establish the correct diagnosis, a quality operation is necessary, which is performed with the help of professional devices and an experienced doctor. The clinic is equipped with state-of-the-art medical equipment.
How long does an abdominal ultrasound last?
A routine abdominal ultrasound examination can take between 10 and 20 minutes, depending on the patient’s preparation and constitution as well as the multitude of problems identified during the investigation.
In patients with excess gas in the intestines, ultrasound evaluation may be difficult because these intestinal gases mask the organs and prevent their proper examination. Also, ultrasound evaluations can be difficult and prolonged in patients with thick abdominal walls, especially in the overweight or obese.
Patients who experience multiple changes during ultrasound may be examined over a longer period of time, paying attention to each change.
Compared to a routine ultrasound evaluation, a more rigorous evaluation with the extension of the ultrasound examination time is required for patients with chronic liver or oncological diseases in which more parameters must be analyzed.
Is special training required before an abdominal ultrasound?
To perform an abdominal ultrasound, the patient must rest for at least 4 hours and consume about half a liter of water an hour before the investigation in order for them to have a full bladder. Ideally, avoid eating foods that bloat the day before the investigation, foods such as fermentable dairy products or raw foods.
After meals, the digestive tract is filled with food and air, which masks the abdominal organs and makes them difficult to examine on ultrasound. Also, after a meal, the gallbladder contracts and evacuates its contents, and can no longer be examined in appropriate conditions. To reduce intestinal gas, the patient can take simethicone or charcoal 2-3 days before and even on the day of the ultrasound. In particular situations of suspicion of gastric, duodenal or pancreatic diseases, the patient may be asked to consume water during ultrasound, thus creating a window for examination of the organs mentioned.
Why is it useful to fill the bladder?
To see the walls and contents of the bladder and to create a window to examine the genitals in women and the prostate in men.
What aspects can be highlighted during an abdominal ultrasound?
Hepatic, pancreatic, splenic, renal nodules
Gallbladder / bladder polyps
Acute pancreatitis, peripancreatic fluid collections
Intra-abdominal hematomas in the context of trauma
Kidney / bladder stonesa
Hepatic, pancreatic, renal or adnexal cysts
Chronic pancreatitis (chronic inflammation of the pancreas)
Thickening of the walls of the stomach, small intestine, colon
What will the doctor be able to detect with the help of an abdominal ultrasound?
An abdominal ultrasound can be crucial in the final diagnosis of a condition, along with the data obtained from the anamnesis, the clinical examination and the blood tests. The abdominal ultrasound obtains information about the size of the organs, their shape, structure and content; whether the normal appearance of the examined structures falls within a reference range, and changes occurring outside this range may suggest certain conditions.
For example, an increase in the size of organs such as the liver, kidneys, pancreas, spleen may reveal acute or chronic inflammation, be it infectious or toxic. In addition, tumors or cystic formations, fluid in the intra-abdominal cavity, kidney or gallstones, inflammation of the intestines, abdominal hernias, blood clots in large vessels, etc. can be detected. An abdominal ultrasound is also useful in diagnosing acute surgical conditions: acute appendicitis, acute cholecystitis, acute diverticulitis. Also, the abdominal ultrasound is the first investigation necessary in the evaluation of an abdominal trauma, being able to detect ruptures of the organs or large blood vessels, internal hemorrhages or foreign bodies.
There are long-term conditions, so-called chronic diseases, which require regular ultrasound monitoring. One such example is chronic hepatitis and liver cirrhosis. Regardless of the cause, whether infectious, alcoholic or autoimmune, an untreated liver disease progresses from acute inflammation to chronic inflammation, cirrhosis and its complications, and ultimately liver cancer. The role of an ultrasound in this sequence is to stage the initial disease, then to monitor it and to detect its complications early. Generally, advanced liver disease is evaluated by ultrasound at 4-6 months in order to detect nodules that can degenerate into liver cancer.
A periodic ultrasound follow-up is recommended when we find polyps in the gallbladder. These polyps are most often (in 9 out of 10 cases) deposits of fat (cholesterol) in the gallbladder wall and even if they can grow, this happens slowly. Cholesterol polyps do not pose a particular risk, but there is another category of polyps, the adenomatous ones, which can show a rapid growth and run the risk of turning into gallbladder cancer. Therefore, the role of monitoring gallbladder polyps is to identify those with rapid growth and large size that may require surgical removal of the gallbladder.
Chronic pancreatitis is another condition that requires ultrasound monitoring as it poses a risk of developing into pancreatic cancer. Also, hepatic, splenic or adrenal nodules or pancreatic or ovarian cysts benefit from ultrasound follow-ups when, depending on the appearance and characterization by analysis, they do not raise suspicions of malignancy and do not require immediate intervention.
In addition to the usual ultrasound image, in shades of gray, we can bring “color” into ultrasound by using Doppler examination (color or power). This technique evaluates the large abdominal blood vessels, their permeability, the existence of aneurysmal dilatations or blood clots inside. It can also identify the presence of blood vessels in nodules with different locations and thus can help us establish the diagnosis. When using the Doppler technique, the blood vessels appear in red (in Power Doppler mode) or in red and blue (depending on the direction of blood flow in color Doppler mode).
Why do an abdominal ultrasound at DigestMed?
The DigestMed Clinic offers the possibility of performing a high quality abdominal ultrasound with help from state of the art devices that produce high image resolutions. In addition, the device is equipped with a liver fibrosis evaluation program, called elastography, and a contrast-enhanced ultrasound program and thus allows a complete and complex ultrasound scan.
Abdominal ultrasounds are performed at DigestMed by gastroenterologists, doctors that specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of digestive disorders. Since most of the intra-abdominal organs belong to the digestive tract, an abdominal ultrasound performed by DigestMed doctors represents an integration of clinical information and an exploration directed by clinical suspicion. Within DigestMed, this evaluation can be completed by clinical consultation and endoscopic examinations, and thus the complete information necessary for the diagnosis and treatment guidance can be obtained.
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Each patient is important to us and we strive to respect the appointment times. However, the scheduled time might get pushed further due to cases that require investigations more thorough than initially anticipated.
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DigestMed is happy to introduce you to its medical team: skillful doctors with extensive experience. Their investigations lead to quick and effective treatment, tailored to each patient’s specific needs.