What is an abdominal X-ray?
X-rays use beams of energy that pass through body tissues onto a special film and
make a picture. They show pictures of your internal tissues, bones, and organs. Bone
and metal show up as white on X-rays.
X-rays of the belly may be done to check the area for causes of abdominal pain. It
can also be done to find an object that has been swallowed or to look for a blockage
or a hole in the intestine.
Abdominal X-rays may be taken in the following positions:
- Standing up
- Lying flat with the exposure made from above
- Lying flat with the exposure made from the side of the patient
- The left side-lying position may be used for people who can’t stand up
When 2 or more of these views are taken, the set of films may be called an obstruction
series. This series of X-rays is done to try to locate a site of an intestinal or
Why might I need an abdominal X-ray?
Abdominal X-rays may be used to diagnose causes of abdominal pain. These can include
things such as masses, holes in the intestine, or blockages. Abdominal X-rays may
be done before other tests that look at the GI tract or urinary tract. These include
an abdominal CT scan and renal or kidney tests.
Basic information regarding the size, shape, and position of abdominal organs can
be seen with abdominal X-rays. Stones in the gallbladder, kidneys, or ureters may
be seen. Calcification of the aorta may also be seen with an abdominal X-ray. There
may be other reasons for your healthcare provider to recommend an abdominal X-ray.
What are the risks of an abdominal X-ray?
You may want to ask your healthcare provider about the amount of radiation used during
the procedure. Also ask about the risks related to your particular situation.
If you are pregnant or think you may be pregnant, you should tell your healthcare
provider. Being exposed to radiation during pregnancy may lead to birth defects.
There may be other risks depending on your specific medical problem. Be sure to discuss
any concerns with your healthcare provider prior to the procedure.
Recent barium X-rays of the abdomen or belly may affect the accuracy of an abdominal
How do I get ready for an abdominal X-ray?
- Your healthcare provider will explain the procedure to you and give you a chance to
ask any questions about the procedure.
- Generally, no prior preparation, such as not eating or sedation (drugs that make you
sleepy) is required.
- Tell your healthcare provider and the radiologic technologist if you are pregnant
or think you may be pregnant.
- Tell your healthcare provider and radiologic technologist if you have taken a medicine
that contains bismuth in the past 4 days. Medicines that have bismuth may get in the
way of the testing procedures.
- Based on your medical problem, your healthcare provider may ask for other specific
What happens during an abdominal X-ray?
Abdominal X-rays may be done on an outpatient basis or as part of your hospital stay.
Tests and procedures may vary depending on your condition.
Generally, abdominal X-rays follow this process:
- You will be asked to remove any clothing, jewelry, or other objects that might get
in the way during the procedure.
- If you are asked to remove clothing, you will be given a gown to wear.
- You will be positioned in a way that carefully places the part of the abdomen or belly
to be X-rayed between the X-ray machine and the film. You may be asked to stand up,
lie flat on a table, or lie on your side on a table, depending on the X-ray view your
healthcare provider has asked for. You may have X-rays taken from more than one position.
- Body parts not being imaged may be covered with a lead apron or shield to limit exposure
to the X-rays.
- Once you are positioned, you will be asked to hold still for a few moments while the
X-ray is taken. You may be asked to hold your breath at various times during the X-ray.
It is very important to stay completely still while the X-ray is taken. Any movement
may alter the image and may even require another X-ray to be done.
- The X-ray beam is then focused on the area to be examined.
- The radiologic technologist steps behind a protective window while the image is taken.
While the X-ray procedure itself causes no pain, the manipulation of the body part
being examined may cause some discomfort or pain, particularly if you’ve recently
had surgery or been injured. The radiologic technologist will use all possible comfort
measures and complete the procedure as quickly as possible to minimize any discomfort
What happens after an abdominal X-ray?
Generally there is no special type of care after abdominal X-rays. Your healthcare
provider may give you other instructions, depending on your situation.
Before you agree to the test or the procedure make sure you know:
- The name of the test or procedure
- The reason you are having the test or procedure
- What results to expect and what they mean
- The risks and benefits of the test or procedure
- What the possible side effects or complications are
- When and where you are to have the test or procedure
- Who will do the test or procedure and what that person’s qualifications are
- What would happen if you did not have the test or procedure
- Any alternative tests or procedures to think about
- When and how will you get the results
- Who to call after the test or procedure if you have questions or problems
- How much will you have to pay for the test or procedure