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Synonyms: Sonography

Ultrasound (US) is a classic procedure. Of the diagnostic sectional imaging techniques (US, CT, MRI) ultrasound is the most common and usually the first procedure used, since it is widely available and relatively inexpensive; it is also non-invasive and therefore repeatable. There is no exposure to radiation and, in addition to the significant diagnostic information that can be gained from the images of the organs, US is also an excellent way of visualising the blood vessels, since blood flow can also be represented. The procedure provides a quick overview of changes in many organs as well as in blood vessels and lymph nodes.


What it is

Ultrasound of the organs in the upper abdomen is a technique in which high-frequency sound waves are used.  Sound waves fan outwards from the ultrasound transducer and are then reflected back in different ways by the structures of the upper abdominal organs and their surroundings. These reflections or echoes are then received by the transducer. From the time sequence of these reflections, a computer can generate an image of the internal structures of the body.  Different cross-sectional images can be created by varying the position and orientation of the transducer. All this is done without the use of X-rays. The procedure is performed directly on the patient by a radiologist.



How it works

The patient lies on his back or side on an examination table.

The ultrasound machine stands next to the examination table. It consists of a monitor, a computer, and a transducer, which is connected to the machine by a cable. The radiologist uses a special gel between the body and the transducer to improve the transmission of sound waves into the tissues.

As the radiologist moves the transducer over the examination area, images of the organs are displayed on the screen.



Many disorders can be diagnosed more quickly by using ultrasound. Results can be obtained and evaluated quickly with no risks and at relatively low cost, and the process is completely safe. With ultrasound, a wide variety of diseases or complaints can be investigated (e.g. abdominal pain, liver disorders, gallstones, kidney stones and organ problems such as tumours and malformations). It is also possible to take samples from some organs (biopsies) under ultrasound guidance. With Doppler ultrasound, abnormalities of blood flow, such as thromboses or emboli (clots in the blood vessels), and narrowing or dilation of the vessels can also be investigated.  If the results are inconclusive, further investigation may be necessary, such as computed tomography (CT scan) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).



Target Patient Group

Ultrasound of the upper abdomen is carried out for various medical and surgical diagnostic tasks. Examples are:

  • Suspected tumour, investigation and operation planning
  • Looking for or excluding metastases (spread of cancer to other parts of the body)
  • Suspected inflammatory changes in certain organs (e.g. liver, gall bladder, pancreas, thyroid)
  • Stones in the gall bladder or kidneys
  • Enlargement (aneurysm) of the abdominal aorta
  • Investigation of lymph nodes



You will be looked after by an experienced team consisting of a medical radiology technician (MRT) and a radiologist.

The procedure itself will be carried out by the radiologist.

During the procedure, the radiologist observes and assesses the organs and takes several pictures, so-called standard sections, of the upper abdominal organs being examined. After the procedure, all the pictures are re-assessed and compared with a preliminary examination if necessary. A written report of the results is then drawn up.This is either given to you or sent on to the doctor who referred you.


  1. Depending on the area being examined, you should not have anything to eat for 4-6 hours before the examination (for an ultrasound of the abdomen). You can drink as much water as you like. It is best to avoid food that produces flatulence for a couple of days before the examination, since gas in the bowels can reduce the quality of the images.
  2. You should take your usual daily medication with some liquid in the morning.
  3. If you are a diabetic, please ask your doctor how you should take your medication on the day of your procedure. If you think that your blood sugar levels are low, please inform the MRI technician immediately.



No precautions are necessary.



The whole procedure takes about 10 to 20 minutes.



First, the area to be examined is uncovered (remove clothing and any jewellery in the area to be examined).

Usually, you will be lying on your back when the examination starts. The radiographer will apply a special gel to your skin - this improves the transmission of sound waves into the tissues.

Many organs can be seen more easily if you take a deep breath and hold it for a short time. The radiologist will let you know what to do if necessary. After the examination, you will be given a towel to wipe off the remaining ultrasound gel. 


After procedure

You will usually be able to go straight home after the procedure, as long as there are no other medical reasons why you should not do so.




Ultrasound is an extremely safe procedure. In rare cases, the pressure of the transducer may feel a little uncomfortable. The ultrasound waves are not harmful to the body. Pregnant patients and children can also be examined without safety concerns. No X-rays are used, so there is no exposure to radiation.




An additional or alternative imaging technique that is often used initially is a conventional X-ray. However, this technique is only suitable for evaluating some specific problems, and its precision and usefulness are limited. Therefore, additional techniques are often used, such as ultrasound, computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). These techniques make it possible to identify and assess even the smallest changes.




Do I have to be an in-patient at the hospital to have an ultrasound?

No, the procedure can be also be performed if you are an outpatient. You can go home again afterwards as long as there are no other medical reasons why you should not do so.

Which patients should not have an ultrasound?

In patients who are very overweight (obese) or bloated with gas, the quality of the images (and so the information they provide) may be very limited, so that another technique may be necessary (e.g. computed tomography or magnetic resonance imaging). The quality of the examination results can also be significantly affected if you have had a prior examination using barium contrast.

What do I need to bring with me?


How much radiation will I be exposed to?

Ultrasound is a mechanical sound wave with a very high frequency, and has no damaging effects on the body. No X-rays are used, so there is no exposure to radiation.


1   Team General Hospital Vienna
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