Abdominal scans are important imaging tools that can help your doctor determine the cause of abdominal pain or discomfort. Unfortunately, there are over 15 different types of abdominal scans, which can make it difficult to find the right scan for your symptoms or condition. The good news is that there are several different options to try, so you’re sure to find one that works well for you and your needs. Here are 10 common abdominal scans used in women’s health today.
The first, and most basic, type of abdominal scan is an ultrasound. This non-invasive procedure uses sound waves to create a detailed picture of your internal organs. Doctors can use ultrasounds as a part of other medical tests or procedures, such as biopsies or fetal monitoring. If you need an abdominal scan but do not have any serious health concerns, you can often get an ultrasound at your local clinic.
Because it provides highly detailed images, MRIs are often used to diagnose abdominal issues in women. To get an MRI, you lie on a bed inside a tube-like machine that sends magnetic waves into your body to produce an image. (MRIs use more powerful magnets than other scans.) The procedure is painless, but people with metal devices such as pacemakers or artificial joints can’t have MRIs because of safety concerns.
Doctors use a CT scan to view cross-sectional images of your abdomen. This type of scan is often used to check for abnormalities in your abdominal organs and check whether you have a small bowel obstruction. A CT scan involves lying on a table that slides into a tunnel-like scanner, where rows and rows of X-ray tubes rotate around you, taking pictures that are assembled into 3D digital models (called virtual slices) by computer software.
This type of scan creates a visual image on photographic film and is one of the oldest forms of medical imaging. X-rays work by emitting small doses of radiation to create an image that reveals what’s behind your abdominal wall. The radiation can also cause damage to soft tissue, so try to avoid x-rays whenever possible.
PET stands for positron emission tomography. A PET scan is used to find cancer cells in your body. A radioactive substance called a tracer is injected into your vein. The tracer collects in areas where cells are dividing quickly, such as cancerous tumors. An imaging machine then makes a detailed picture based on how active these areas are, so they show up brighter on an image.
This stress test looks at how your heart responds to increased inactivity. When you exercise, your heart is working more than during everyday activity; therefore, doctors can look for signs of problems that would not be detected in a resting EKG. Unlike many other tests, a stress test does not require any special preparation, but it does involve mild physical activity such as walking on a treadmill or riding a stationary bike. Doctors may request other tests along with a stress test as part of an evaluation for coronary artery disease.
Blood tests can provide your doctor with more information about what’s going on inside. The most common types are those to measure hormone levels, such as estradiol and progesterone. Your doctor might also want to test your blood sugar or hormone-sensitive lipase level to learn more about your metabolism. Finally, anemia, thyroid disease, and autoimmune disorders can all be detected with blood tests—so don’t be afraid to ask for one!
Genetic testing is a type of test that looks at DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, which is located in nearly every cell. This test can find gene mutations or other changes to your DNA that could cause serious medical conditions. You might need genetic testing if you have a family history of certain conditions (like breast cancer), or if you want to know more about your ancestry. The results from genetic tests often help doctors better understand how to treat a condition and develop new ways to prevent and diagnose illness.
This is a test that examines how your esophagus, stomach, and small intestine look. An endoscopy takes pictures to check for any health problems, such as a polyp, ulcer, or cancer. During an endoscopy, you lie on an exam table with your face toward one end. A health care provider uses a long flexible tube called an endoscope to see inside your throat, esophagus, and stomach. You will have medicine to help you relax during the procedure.
Other ways to find out what’s going on inside your tummy.
Your doctor may suggest a simple ultrasound to look at your liver, kidneys, and bladder. In an ultrasound, sound waves bounce off your organs and onto a screen so you can see them. This is different from a CT scan (computerized tomography), in which X-rays are used to show different types of tissues and organs. Ultrasound doesn’t use radiation as a CT scan does. A CT scan is more detailed than ultrasound but takes longer to perform.