An abdominal x-ray uses a very small dose of ionizing radiation to produce pictures of the inside of the abdominal cavity. It is used to evaluate the stomach, liver, intestines, and spleen and may be used to help diagnose unexplained pain, nausea, or vomiting. When used to examine the kidneys, ureters, and bladder, it's called a KUB x-ray. Because abdominal x-ray is fast and easy, it is particularly useful in emergency diagnosis and treatment.
This exam requires little to no special preparation. Tell your doctor and the technologist if there is a possibility you are pregnant, you have an intrauterine device (IUD), or you have recently had a barium sulfate contrast material x-ray or taken medicines such as Pepto Bismol. Leave jewelry at home and wear loose, comfortable clothing. You may be asked to wear a gown.
What is an abdominal x-ray?
An x-ray exam helps doctors diagnose and treat medical conditions. It exposes you to a small dose of ionizing radiation to produce pictures of the inside of the body. X-rays are the oldest and most often used form of medical imaging.
An abdominal x-ray is a commonly performed diagnostic x-ray examination that produces images of the organs in the abdominal cavity including the stomach, liver, intestines, and spleen.
When an abdominal x-ray is performed to provide pictures of the kidneys, ureters, and bladder, it's called a KUB x-ray.
What are some common uses of the procedure?
Abdominal x-ray is often the first imaging test used to evaluate and diagnose the source of acute pain in the abdominal region and/or lower back as well as unexplained nausea and vomiting.
Abdominal x-ray is also performed to help diagnose conditions such as:
- kidney and urinary bladder stones and gallstones
- intestinal blockages
- perforation of the stomach or intestine
- ingestion of foreign objects
An abdominal x-ray may also be used to help properly place catheters and tubes used for feeding or to decompress organs such as the gallbladder and kidneys.
How should I prepare?
An abdominal x-ray requires no special preparation.
You may need to remove some clothing and/or change into a gown for the exam. Remove jewelry, removable dental appliances, eyeglasses, and any metal objects or clothing that might interfere with the x-ray images.
You should inform your physician if you have had a barium sulfate contrast material x-ray or if you have taken any medicines such as Pepto Bismol in the last few days, as they may interfere with the x-ray.
You may be asked to empty your bladder before the test.
Women should inform their physician and x-ray technologist, an individual specially trained to perform radiology examinations, if they have an intrauterine device (IUD) inserted for pregnancy prevention.
Women should always inform their physician and x-ray technologist if there is any possibility that they are pregnant. An abdominal x-ray is usually not performed on pregnant women so as not to expose the baby to radiation. The ovaries and uterus cannot be shielded during the abdominal x-ray because of their location. Abdominal ultrasound is a common, safe alternative for pregnant women. See the X-ray Safety page for more information about pregnancy and x-rays.
What are the benefits vs. risks?
- Abdominal x-ray imaging is a painless, minimally invasive procedure with rare complications.
- Radiology examinations can often provide enough information to avoid more invasive procedures.
- X-ray equipment is relatively inexpensive and widely available in emergency rooms, doctors’ offices, ambulatory care centers, nursing homes, and other locations. This makes it convenient for both patients and doctors.
- Because x-ray imaging is fast and easy, it is particularly useful in emergency diagnosis and treatment.
- No radiation stays in your body after an x-ray exam.
- X-rays usually have no side effects in the typical diagnostic range for this exam.
- There is always a slight chance of cancer from excessive exposure to radiation. However, given the small amount of radiation used in medical imaging, the benefit of an accurate diagnosis far outweighs the associated risk.
- The radiation dose for this procedure varies. See the Radiation Dose in X-Ray and CT Exams page for more information about radiation dose.
- Women should always tell their doctor and x-ray technologist if they are pregnant. See the Safety in X-ray, Interventional Radiology and Nuclear Medicine Procedures page for more information about pregnancy and x-rays.