An abdominal x-ray is an imaging test to look at organs and structures in the belly area. Organs include the spleen, stomach, and intestines.
When the test is done to look at the bladder and kidney structures, it is called a KUB (kidneys, ureters, bladder) x-ray.
Abdominal film; X-ray - abdomen; Flat plate; KUB x-ray
How the test is performed
The test is done in a hospital radiology department. Or it may done in the health care provider's office by an x-ray technologist.
You lie on your back on the x-ray table. The x-ray machine is positioned over your abdominal area. You hold your breath as the picture is taken so that the picture will not be blurry. You may be asked to change position to the side or to stand up for additional pictures.
How to prepare for the test
Before having the x-ray, tell the health care provider the following:
- If you are pregnant or think you could be pregnant
- Have an IUD inserted
- Have had a barium contrast media x-ray in the last 4 days
- If you have taken any medicines such as Pepto Bismol in the last 4 days (this type of medicine can interfere with the x-ray)
You wear a hospital gown during the x-ray procedure. You must remove all jewelry. You must sign an informed consent form.
How the test will feel
There is no discomfort. The x-rays are taken as you lie on your back, side, and while standing.
Why the test is performed
- Diagnose a pain in the abdomen or unexplained nausea
- Identify suspected problems in the urinary system, such as a kidney stone
- Identify blockage in the intestine
- Locate an object that has been swallowed
The x-ray will show normal structures for a person your age.
What abnormal results mean
Abnormal findings include:
- Abdominal masses
- Buildup of fluid in the abdomen
- Certain types of gallstones
- Foreign object in the intestines
- Hole in the stomach or intestines
- Injury to the abdominal tissue
- Intestinal blockage
- Kidney stones
The test may be performed for:
- Abdominal aortic aneurysm
- Acute appendicitis
- Acute cholecystitis
- Acute kidney failure
- Addison disease
- Annular pancreas
- Atheroembolic renal disease
- Biliary atresia
- Blind loop syndrome
- Chronic renal failure
- Hirschsprung disease
- Idiopathic aplastic anemia
- Injury of the kidney and ureter
- Intussusception (children)
- Necrotizing enterocolitis
- Peritonitis, spontaneous
- Primary or idiopathic intestinal pseudo-obstruction
- Renal artery stenosis
- Renal cell carcinoma
- Secondary aplastic anemia
- Toxic megacolon
- Wilms tumor
What the risks are
There is low radiation exposure. X-rays are monitored and regulated to provide the minimum amount of radiation exposure needed to produce the image. Most experts feel that the risk is low compared with the benefits.
Pregnant women and children are more sensitive to the risks of the x-ray. Women should tell the health care provider if they are, or may be, pregnant.
The test is not usually recommended for pregnant women. The ovaries and uterus cannot be shielded during the abdominal x-ray because of their location.
Men should have a lead shield placed over the testes to protect against the radiation.
Morrison I. The plain abdominal radiograph and associated anatomy and techniques. In: Adam A, Dixon AK, eds. Grainger & Allison's Diagnostic Radiology: A Textbook of Medical Imaging. 5th ed. New York, NY: Elsevier Churchill-Livingstone; 2008:chap 29.
Last reviewed 1/22/2013 by Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, David R. Eltz, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.
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