Abdominal Film (X-Ray)

Written by Gretchen Holm | Published on August 15, 2012
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD

What is an Abdominal Film?

An abdominal film, also known as an abdominal X-ray, helps doctors assess potential problems in your abdomen—particularly in your spleen, stomach, and intestines. Your doctor may perform this procedure to help detect a particular condition such as kidney stones.

A KUB X-ray is a variation of an abdominal film. Instead of examining the entire abdominal area, this test focuses on the kidneys, ureters, and bladder. It gets its name from the first letter of each of these body parts.

When Doctors Perform an Abdominal Film

Your doctor might order an abdominal film if you are experiencing one or more of the following symptoms:

  • chronic nausea
  • ongoing vomiting
  • abdominal pain
  • abdominal swelling

Your doctor may also order this test if he or she suspects any that you might be suffering from any of the following conditions:

  • abdominal aortic aneurysm
  • Addison’s disease
  • adenomyosis
  • anemia, idiopathic aplastic or secondary aplastic
  • annular pancreas
  • appendicitis, acute
  • ascariasis
  • atheroembolic renal disease
  • biliary atresia
  • blind loop syndrome
  • cholangitis
  • cholecystitis, acute
  • chronic renal failure
  • cirrhosis
  • echinococcus
  • encopresis
  • Hirschsprung’s disease
  • intussusception (in children)
  • kidney failure, acute
  • kidney injury
  • necrotizing enterocolitis
  • nephrocalcinosis
  • peritonitis, spontaneous
  • primary or idiopathic intestinal pseudo-obstruction
  • renal artery stenosis
  • renal cell carcinoma
  • toxic megacolon
  • ureter injury
  • Wilms’ tumor

An abdominal film can also serve to help your doctor locate the precise position of an object you have swallowed. Alternatively, your doctor might use this test to make sure that a tube or catheter (often placed to allow for drainage or the administration of fluids or gases) is in the correct location.

Preparing for an Abdominal Film

You generally do not need to fast, change your diet, or do anything major to prepare for an abdominal film—unless your doctor informs you otherwise.

Tell your doctor if you are pregnant. Abdominal films involve low levels of radiation and are typically not recommended for pregnant women. If you are pregnant, your doctor will probably opt to do an ultrasound to avoid any risk to the fetus.

Tell your doctor about any medications you are taking. This is particularly important if you have taken Pepto-Bismol or another medication containing bismuth in the four days preceding the abdominal film. Bismuth can affect the clarity of the images, so your doctor needs to know if you have taken it.

Finally, inform your doctor if you have recently had an X-ray test that involved barium contrast material. Like the bismuth in Pepto-Bismol, barium can prevent a clear picture in your abdominal film.

Abdominal Film Procedure

When you arrive at the office for your abdominal film appointment, you will need to remove any jewelry. You will probably also need to change into a hospital gown.

Next, you will typically lie down on your back on a table. In some cases, you may need to lie on your side or even stand up instead.

You must remain perfectly still during the X-ray. You may even need to hold your breath at certain points to ensure that your abdomen doesn’t move.

Depending on what your doctor is looking for, you might need to have X-rays taken from several angles. This means you might be asked to change positions.

Interpreting the Results of Your Abdominal Film

An abdominal film can reveal various issues in the abdomen. These include:

  • masses
  • fluid buildup
  • injury
  • blockage
  • foreign objects
  • stones in the gallbladder, bladder, kidneys, or ureters

The film also allowed your doctor to identify whether certain organs are enlarged or out of their proper position.

Remember that an abdominal film just lets your doctor see what’s going on in your abdomen. It does not detect all possible problems or give definitive answers to all your questions. Your doctor will discuss the implications of any issues detected in the abdominal film. Some results might require further tests.

Possible Risks of an Abdominal Film

An abdominal film is a low-risk procedure. You will be exposed to low levels of radiation, as required to take X-rays. Depending on the reason for the abdominal film, you may feel pain or discomfort from lying on your back or side for the procedure.

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