What is an abdominal X-ray?
X-rays use invisible electromagnetic energy beams to make images of the abdomen. X-rays
pass through body tissues onto a special film similar to camera film and make a picture.
The more solid a structure is, the whiter it looks on the film. Computers and digital
media are now more commonly used instead of film. 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:
Lying flat with the picture made from above
Lying flat with the picture made from the side
The left side-lying position. This may be used if you 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 a suspected blockage
in the abdomen or intestine.
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, openings in the intestine, or blockages. Abdominal X-rays may
be done before other tests that look at the gastrointestinal (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.
Talk with your healthcare provider about the reason for your 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. It's
a good idea to keep a record of your radiation exposure, such as previous X-rays and
other scans, so that you can tell your provider. Risks linked to radiation exposure
may be from the number of X-ray exams or treatments over time.
If you are pregnant or think you may be pregnant, 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. 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, you don't need to do anything to get ready for the test.
Tell your healthcare provider and the radiologic technologist if you are pregnant
or think you may be pregnant.
Tell your healthcare provider if you've taken a medicine that contains bismuth in
the past 4 days. Medicines that have bismuth may get in the way of the testing procedures.
Your healthcare provider may ask for other specific preparation.
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's 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, moving 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 or pain.
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 you will get the results
Who to call after the test or procedure if you have questions or problems
How much you will have to pay for the test or procedure