Obstruction Series, Abdominal Radiography

X-ray beams are passed through the abdomen, producing images of the internal structures on a special type of film. Abdominal x-ray is used for the quick evaluation of patients with acute abdominal pain.

Purpose of the Abdominal X-ray

  • To help determine the cause of acute abdominal pain in cases of suspected abdominal obstruction, perforation of the stomach or another abdominal organ, kidney stones, appendicitis, or ingestion of a foreign object
  • To monitor the progression or resolution of a chronic gastrointestinal disorder (for example, in patients with an obstruction of the small bowel)

Who Performs Abdominal X-ray

  • A radiologist or an x-ray technician

Special Concerns about Abdominal X-ray

  • Pregnant women should not undergo this test because exposure to ionizing radiation may harm the fetus.

Before the Abdominal X-ray

  • Do not eat or drink anything for 4 hours before the test.
  • Inform your doctor if you are or could be pregnant, are currently using an IUD or have had a barium contrast media x-ray in the last 4 days.
  • Tell your doctor if you have taken any bismuth medicines (such as Pepto-Bismol) within the last four days.
  • Remove your shirt, belt, and any jewelry or metal objects and put on an x-ray gown.

What You Experience

  • You will be positioned, either standing or lying down, in front of an x-ray machine.
  • You are asked to take a deep breath and hold it while the x-ray is being taken, in order to provide a clear view of the abdomen. It is important to remain still throughout the procedure because any motion can distort the image. Several views from different angles will be taken.
  • A chest x-ray may also be taken because pain in the lower part of the lungs may be mistaken for abdominal pain.
  • The procedure takes about 10 minutes.

Risks and Complications of Abdominal X-ray

  • Radiation exposure is minimal.

After the Abdominal X-ray

  • Depending on the cause of the pain, you may return home and resume your usual activities.

Abdominal X-ray Results

  • X-ray films are usually ready shortly after the test is completed. A doctor will examine the images for abnormalities, such as an obstruction, foreign body, or free air (air that is present in the abdominal cavity when there are holes along the digestive tract).
  • If the doctor can make a definitive diagnosis, appropriate treatment will be initiated, depending on the specific problem.
  • In many cases, additional tests—such as contrast x-rays to better visualize the digestive tract, abdominal and pelvic CT scan, sigmoidoscopy, or colonoscopy—may be required to establish a diagnosis and determine the extent of the problem.


The Johns Hopkins Consumer Guide to Medical Tests

Simeon Margolis, M.D., Ph.D., Medical Editor

Updated by Remedy Health Media

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at Healthcommunities.com

Published: 03 Jan 2012

Last Modified: 03 Jan 2012