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Ultrasound of the Abdomen in Children: About This Test

Ultrasound of abdomen, showing ultrasound transducer placed on belly and test image displayed on monitor

What is it?

An abdominal ultrasound uses reflected sound waves to make a picture of the organs and blood vessels in the upper belly. The sound waves appear on a video monitor. This test lets the doctor see the liver, gallbladder, spleen, pancreas, kidneys, and major blood vessels.

Why is it done?

An ultrasound can be done to find out what's causing belly pain or to look at a lump or mass. The doctor can use it to check for problems in the liver and kidneys or find fluid in the belly. It can also help guide needles or other medical tools during treatment.

How do you prepare for the test?

  • Your child may need to eat a fat-free meal the night before the test. This may depend on what part of the belly your doctor will look at. Or your child may need to avoid eating for a few hours before the test. Your doctor will tell you what to do.
  • Reassure your child that the test doesn't hurt.
  • Tell your child what to expect. The test room will have unfamiliar devices in it, and it may be cold.
  • Tell your child that you will be close by at all times.

How is the test done?

Before the test

  • Your child may have to empty his or her bladder before the test. Sometimes it's important to have a full bladder for the test. So your child may be asked to drink a lot of water and not empty the bladder.
  • Your child will need to take off any jewellery that might get in the way of the test.
  • Your child will need to remove all or most clothing around the area to be scanned. He or she will get a cloth or paper covering to use during the test.

During the test

  • Your child lies down on an exam table.
  • The doctor or technologist puts some warm gel on your child's belly. The gel will help transmit the sound waves. A small hand-held unit called a transducer is pressed against your child's belly and is moved back and forth. A picture of the organs and blood vessels can be seen on a video screen.
  • Your child will need to lie still. He or she may be asked to take a breath and hold it for several seconds during the scan.
  • Your child may be asked to change positions so more scans can be done.

How does it feel?

Most children do not feel pain during the test. If your child's belly was already hurting before the test, the slight pressure of the transducer may be somewhat painful. Your child will not hear or feel the sound waves.

How long does it take?

The test will take about 30 minutes. You may be asked to wait until the doctor has reviewed the scan. He or she may want to do more ultrasound views of some areas of your child's belly.

What happens after the test?

Your child may be able to go home right away. Your child may be able to go back to his or her usual activities that same day.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if your child is having problems. Ask your doctor when you can expect to have your child's test results.

Where can you learn more?

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