An abdominal plain film, also known as an abdominal X-ray, helps your doctor assess potential problems in your abdominal cavity, stomach, and intestines. Your doctor may perform this procedure to help detect a particular condition like kidney stones or gallstones.
Instead of generally imaging the entire abdominal area, your doctor may order a KUB X-ray, which is a variation of an abdominal film that focuses on the kidneys, ureters, and bladder. The procedure gets its name from the first letter of each of these body parts.
In this article, we’ll look closer at abdominal X-rays and discuss why they’re used, how they’re interpreted, possible risks, and more.
Your doctor might order an abdominal X-ray if you’re having one or more of the following symptoms:
- significant nausea
- ongoing vomiting
- abdominal pain
- flank or back pain
- abdominal swelling
Some of the following conditions may also be diagnosed with an abdominal X-ray:
- an abdominal aortic aneurysm
- Addison’s disease
- anemia (idiopathic aplastic or secondary aplastic)
- atheroembolic renal disease
- blind loop syndrome
- Echinococcus infection
- Hirschsprung’s disease
- intestinal pseudo-obstruction (primary or idiopathic)
- intussusception (in children)
- necrotizing enterocolitis
- toxic megacolon
- a ureter injury
- Wilms’ tumor
- GI perforation
An abdominal film may also help your doctor locate the precise position of an object you’ve swallowed.
Alternatively, your doctor might use this test to make sure that a tube, like a suction or feeding catheter, is in the correct location. These are often placed to allow for drainage or the administration of fluids or gases.
Unless your doctor informs you otherwise, you won’t need to fast, change your diet, or do anything major to prepare for an abdominal film.
Tell your doctor if you’re pregnant. Abdominal films involve low levels of radiation and are typically not recommended for pregnant people. If you’re pregnant, your doctor will probably choose to do an ultrasound to avoid any risk to the fetus.
Tell your doctor about any medications you’re taking, especially if you’ve taken Pepto-Bismol or another medication containing bismuth in the 4 days before the abdominal film. Bismuth can affect the clarity of the images, so your doctor needs to know if you’ve taken it.
Inform your doctor if you’ve recently had an X-ray test that involved barium contrast material. Similar to the effect caused by bismuth in Pepto-Bismol, barium can prevent a clear picture in your abdominal film.
When you arrive at the office for your abdominal X-ray, you’ll need to remove any jewelry. You may also need to change into a hospital gown.
You’ll likely need to lie down on your back on a table. In some cases, you may need to lie on your side or even stand up instead. Depending on what your doctor is looking for, you might need to have X-rays taken from several angles, and you might be asked to change positions.
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.
An abdominal film can reveal various issues in the abdomen. These include:
- a mass
- fluid buildup
- an injury
- a blockage
- a foreign object
- certain types of stones in the gallbladder, bladder, kidneys, or ureters
The film also allows your doctor to identify whether certain organs are enlarged or out of their proper position.
Remember that an abdominal film only lets your doctor see what’s going on in your abdomen. It doesn’t detect all possible problems or give definitive answers to all of your questions.
Your doctor will discuss the implications of any issues detected in the abdominal film. Some findings may require further tests.
An abdominal film is a low-risk procedure. You’ll be exposed to low levels of radiation, as radiation is 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.
An abdominal film is an X-ray of the abdomen. There are many reasons why a doctor may take an abdominal film, including to look at organs, find infections, diagnose pain, and look for growths.
An abdominal film doesn’t require much preparation and is typically easy and painless for most people. You’ll be exposed to a very low level of radiation, but an abdominal film is considered to be a low-risk procedure.