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An abdominal X-ray is a picture of structures and organs in the belly (abdomen). This includes the stomach, liver, spleen, and large and small intestines. It also includes the diaphragm, which is the muscle that separates the chest and belly areas. Often two X-rays will be taken from different positions. If the test is being done to look for certain problems of the kidneys or bladder, it is often called a KUB (for kidneys, ureters, and bladder).
An abdominal X-ray may be one of the first tests done to find a cause of belly pain, swelling, nausea, or vomiting. And other tests (such as ultrasound, CT scan, MRI, or intravenous pyelography) may be used to look for more specific problems.
An abdominal X-ray is done to:
In general, there's nothing you have to do before this test, unless your doctor tells you to.
You may be asked to empty your bladder before the test. You may need to take off any jewellery that may be in the way of the X-ray picture, such as if you have a pierced belly button.
You may need to take off all or most of your clothes. You will be given a gown to use during the test.
You will lie on your back on a table.
After the X-ray machine is positioned over your belly, you will be asked to hold your breath while the X-ray pictures are taken. You need to lie very still so the pictures are clear.
Often two pictures are taken: one while you are lying down (supine) and the other one while you are standing (erect view). If you are not able to stand, the X-ray may be taken while you lie on your side with your arm over your head.
An abdominal X-ray takes about 5 to 10 minutes. In clinics and hospitals, X-ray pictures can be shown right away on a computer screen (digitally).
You won't feel any pain from the X-ray itself. You may find that the positions you need to hold are uncomfortable or painful. This is more likely if you have an injury.
There is always a slight chance of damage to cells or tissue from radiation, including the low levels of radiation used for this test. But the chance of damage from the X-rays is extremely low. It is not a reason to avoid the test.
An abdominal X-ray is not usually done during pregnancy. Often an abdominal ultrasound is done instead.
In an emergency, the results of an abdominal X-ray are ready in a few minutes. Otherwise, a radiologist usually has the official X-ray report ready the next day.
The pictures made by the X-rays show that the stomach, small and large bowel, liver, spleen, kidneys, and bladder are normal in size, shape, and location.
No growths, abnormal amounts of fluid (ascites), or foreign objects are seen. Normal amounts of air and fluid are seen in the intestines. Normal amounts of stool are seen in the large intestine.
A blocked intestine may be seen because a portion of the intestine is larger than usual or areas in the intestine have abnormal amounts of air or fluid in them.
A collection of air inside the belly cavity but outside the intestines (caused by a hole in the stomach or intestines) may be seen.
The walls of the intestines may look abnormal or thick.
The size, shape, or location of the bladder or kidneys may be abnormal. Kidney stones may be seen in the kidney, ureters, bladder, or urethra.
In some cases, gallstones can be seen on an abdominal X-ray.
Abnormal growths, such as large tumours, or ascites may be seen.
A foreign object is seen or a medical device looks abnormal or out of position.
Adaptation Date: 2/15/2023
Adapted By: Alberta Health Services
Adaptation Reviewed By: Alberta Health Services
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