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Abdominal X-ray

What is an abdominal x-ray and how do they work?

An Abdominal x-ray is an imaging procedure that takes photos of the abdominal organs, including the spleen, stomach, and intestines as well as internal tissues and bones. A standard abdominal x ray won’t take images of kidneys, ureters and bladder, to capture these a KUB x-ray will need to be done.

If a doctor suspects an issue with a bone or in the spleen, stomach or intestines, they will often issue an abdominal x ray. This test is useful in emergency diagnosis and treatment because it’s very easy and results are immediate.

Abdominal x rays work by sending a small amount of radiation and electromagnetic energy beams into the area to capture an image. Matter like bones is dense, so the beam can’t penetrate it will, and this will show up as a white image on the photo. Matter like soft tissues and organs are less dense, allowing the light to penetrate them and will show up darker on the image.

An abdominal x ray is almost always issued by a doctor, after an initial consultation. So, the patient should have already seen a physician to discuss their symptoms or discomfort. If a doctor suspects an issue with the bones, joints or the above-mentioned organs, then they will refer the patient for a standard abdominal x-ray, however, if the doctor suspects an issue that can’t be detected on the x-ray, like a condition of the kidneys, ureters and bladder then they may order another type of test, like an MRI or KUB x ray.

Why might you need an abdominal x-ray?

In order to be referred for an abdominal x ray, you will need to visit a physical first. Here, the doctor will run a physical exam and speak about your symptoms. If a patient is experiencing any of the following issues, a doctor may order an abdominal x-ray.

  • Abdominal pain or discomfort

  • Vomiting that worsens or doesn’t improve within a few days

  • Diarrhea that worsens or doesn’t improve within a few days

  • Constipation that worsens or doesn’t improve within a few days

  • Abdominal swelling

  • significant nausea

  • Lower back pain

  • If you’ve been involved in an injury that affects the abdominal area

  • If an obstruction is suspected

Below are a number of conditions that an abdominal x-ray can help diagnose.

  • An abdominal aortic aneurysm

  • Abdominal distension

  • Broken bones or fractures in the pelvic area

  • Addison’s disease

  • Anemia (idiopathic aplastic or secondary aplastic)

  • Pancreatitis

  • Small or large bowel obstruction

  • Appendicitis

  • Ascariasis

  • Atheroembolic renal disease

  • Blind loop syndrome

  • Echinococcus infection

  • Hirschsprung’s disease

  • Intestinal pseudo-obstruction (primary or idiopathic)

  • Intussusception (in children)

  • Necrotizing enterocolitis

  • Nephrocalcinosis

  • Toxic megacolon

  • An injury of the uterus

  • Wilms’ tumor

  • GI perforation

How to prepare for your abdominal x-ray

An abdominal x-ray usually doesn’t require any special preparation. However, this can vary between physicians, so you should check with your doctor about whether they’ll require any preparation before your test.

Any x-rays requires the patient to remove all of the metal objects on their body before the exam. So, it’s a good idea to remove this before your appointment. These items include jewellery, piercings, belts and/or a watch. Some makeup and hairspray can also include tiny metal particles.

If you have a metal device implanted in your body, like a pace maker, hearing aid or metals and pins for a broken bone, then you should let your technician know about this when you arrive for your test.

What to expect from your abdominal x-ray


During the scan 

When you arrive for your abdominal x-ray, you will check with the receptionist like a normal doctor’s appointment. When it’s your time for the scan, you will be taken to the x-ray room where you’ll find a medical table and an x-ray machine hanging over the top.

With an abdominal x ray, you will almost always be given a hospital gown to change into. Once you’re dressed in the gown, you’ll be asked to sit on an exam table. A technician will help to positive you so that you’re lying correctly so that the x ray machine will capture the correct areas. Sometimes they’ll put a lead mat over other areas of your body that don’t need to be captured in the photo/s.

After this, the technician or radiologist will head into a separate room or an area that’s partitioned off. They will then capture the images and it’s important that you stay very still during this time. Even the slightest movement can create a blur in the photos.

Depending on your specific issue, the technician may come back and position your differently a few times, so that they can capture images of different areas.

Once the photos are taken, the technician will usually ask you to wait a few minutes while they check that the x-rays are all clear. If so, you’ll be able to change back into your regular clothes and continue about your day as normal.

After the scan

An abdominal x ray is a non-invasive procedure, so there generally won’t’ be anything special you need to do once the x ray is completed. However, in very rare cases, a patient can have an allergic reaction to an x-ray. So, if you notice any symptoms of an allergy at all, like hives or a rash, then you should contact a doctor immediately.

The images from abdominal x-rays are available immediately. However, in most cases, a doctor will need some time to analyse them and diagnose the problem. Once this is done, the doctor’s office will contact you for a follow-up appointment to discuss your results and their findings. This will usually be a day or two after the appointment. If your condition is urgent, a doctor may prioritise your results and have them ready immediately.

What are the benefits of an abdominal x-ray?

Below are some reasons why pelvis x-rays are commonly used.

  • They are very useful in detecting a number of conditions and are an easy and an effective way to determine if you have a broken bone or fracture.

  • X rays are very quick, in many cases, your results will be available the same day.

  • They are relatively cheap, in comparison to a CT scan or a magnetic resonance imaging test.

  • X rays are non invasive and painless.


Are abdominal x-rays harmful to my health?

While the term radiation may sound scary, x-rays actually have very low radiation exposure. People actually already have radiation exposure in their everyday life. In fact, the radiation exposure in a hand x-ray is the equivalent amount of radiation an average human (who didn’t have an x ray) would be exposed to over a 10 day period.

How long does an abdominal x-ray take?

The x-ray procedure itself usually only takes a matter of minutes, but this may depend on whether alternate angles are required. If so, it may take slightly longer. Yous should always factor in 30-45 minutes for an abdominal x-ray, and this extra time will cover waiting time, a discussion with the radiologist or technician, time to change into the hospital gown, and time to adjust your body in the correct position for the scan.

Does abdominal x-ray use a monoenergy or polyenergetic beam?

A monoenergetic photon beam has a fixed energy, and does not change with attenuation at any depth. Whereas, a polyenergetic (spectral) photon beam changes in energy as it is attenuate. Abdominal x rays use polyenergetic beams so that photons have a wide spectrum of energies.

What can abdominal x-ray show?

There is a large range of issues that abdominal x-rays can detect. This type of imaging scan shows bones and joints as well as some soft tissues and organs. They are commonly used to show the size, shape, and position of the liver and spleen which can indicate specific conditions. However, if a doctor suspects an issue with your kidneys, ureters and bladder, they will likely order a KUB x-ray in order to capture more detailed images.

Ready to make an appointment?

If you’d like to find out more information about our x-ray treatments you can do so here. To book a consultation or to make an appointment to see a doctor, you can get in touch with our friendly staff at our clinic here.

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