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Why would I need an abdominal ultrasound?

Ultrasound imaging is most often associated with pregnancy, but it has a wide variety of uses. It may be ordered to investigate pain, swelling, or other symptoms, and can be the first step in determining the cause for symptoms affecting the soft tissues of the body. For example, in the abdomen it can help check for kidney stones, liver disease, tumours, and the cause of stomach pain or bloating.

Also known as sonography, ultrasound imaging involves the use of high-frequency, real-time sound waves to create an image. Sound waves are transmitted into the body through a small transducer (probe). These waves travel into the area being examined until they hit a boundary between tissues, such as between fluid and soft tissue, or soft tissue and bone. Since sound waves travel different distances before they are reflected back to the transducer, depending on the boundary they run into, a computer can interpret this information as a two-dimensional image on a screen.

One of the most commonly requested ultrasound exams is the abdominal ultrasound. This exam assesses the aorta, liver, pancreas, gallbladder, kidneys, and spleen. Multiple still images are taken to represent the location, texture, and blood flow of each organ.

Ultrasound is also very good at looking at cartilage, muscles, tendons, and ligaments to evaluate joints for fluid or inflammation. Called a musculoskeletal (MSK) ultrasound, these exams are often ordered for joint concerns such as symptoms in the ankle, elbow, knee, shoulder, or wrist. Again the dynamic nature of ultrasound is an advantage for accurate diagnosis, since we can evaluate the area in question while it’s moving and watch as a patient performs the action causing symptoms.

MSK ultrasounds may be requested on their own or in conjunction with an X-ray to rule out a fracture.


Ultrasound helps health care practitioners make a diagnosis and inform care decisions. Once your doctor has identified the need for an ultrasound, your doctor’s office may book an appointment for you, or provide you with a number to call to book your appointment. You will also be given a requisition form and preparation instructions for your exam.

For an abdominal ultrasound, you will be asked to fast and have nothing to eat or drink (except water) for six hours prior to your exam. It generally takes between 20-30 minutes to complete this exam.

Once in the exam room you may be asked to change into a gown. You will then be positioned by one of our compassionate and experienced sonographers. A warm, unscented, hypo-allergenic ultrasound gel will be applied to your abdomen, and your sonographer will move the transducer around the front and side of your abdomen and ribcage to gather images of your organs. You may be asked to hold your breath and change position to help better examine the area of concern. You may experience mild to moderate pressure while the sonographer takes the images.


Your images will be reviewed by a specialized radiologist who will compile a report that is sent to your doctor within 24 hours, sooner for urgent requests. Mayfair Diagnostics is owned and operated by over 60 radiologists who are fellowship-trained in many keys areas, such as neuroradiology, body, cardiac, and musculoskeletal imaging, etc. This allows for an expert review of your imaging by the applicably trained radiologist.

Your images will be uploaded to a provincial picture archiving and communication system (PACS) – this technology provides electronic storage and convenient access to your medical images from multiple sources, such as your doctor, specialists, hospitals, and walk-in clinics.

Your doctor will review your images and the report from the radiologist and discuss next steps with you, such as a treatment plan or the need for further diagnostic imaging or lab tests to ensure an accurate diagnosis.

Mayfair Diagnostics has 12 locations across Calgary which provide ultrasound services, as well as one in Regina. For more information about our clinic locations and services, please visit our clinic location pages, or you can drop by the nearest clinic.


Radiological Society of North America (2018) “General Ultrasound.” Accessed June 27, 2019.

Lewis, T. (2013) “5 Fascinating Facts About Fetal Ultrasounds.” Live Science. Accessed June 27, 2019.

Mayo Clinic Staff (2018) “Abdominal Ultrasound.” Accessed June 27, 2019.

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