3 Ways Ultrasounds Are Used In Digestive Health

Ultrasound technology is often associated with pregnancy but is also used as a tool for diagnosing and treating many disease states. Presently, ultrasounds are commonly used to evaluate heart disease, abdominal organs, joint inflammation, and blood flow. Additionally, ultrasounds are used in digestive health condition diagnostics. 

Ultrasound Scans and Digestive Health Conditions

According to John Hopkins Medicine, an ultrasound is a noninvasive procedure in which high-frequency sound waves, more commonly known as ultrasound waves, pass through the body and allow for quick visualization of the abdominal organ structure. This imaging can help assess several different digestive health issues. At Birmingham Gastroenterology, we understand how important it is to have and maintain a healthy digestive system. Below are four ways ultrasounds are used in digestive health.


A gallstone is a hardened deposit of bile that can form in your gallbladder. Your gallbladder is a small organ located beneath your liver that stores bile, a liquid that aids in digestion. Mayo Clinic states that gallstones can range from as small as a grain of sand to as large as a golf ball. Gallstones may not have any accompanying signs or symptoms but may include:

  • Sudden and intense pain in the upper right side or center of your abdomen
  • Back pain between your shoulder blades
  • Right shoulder pain
  • Nausea or vomiting

If gallstones do not cause any symptoms, treatment is not usually necessary. However, a gastroenterologist will usually recommend treatment if a person sustains a gallbladder attack or other serious symptoms. An abdominal ultrasound is often considered the best imaging test for finding gallstones.

Fatty Liver Disease And Cirrhosis

Fatty liver disease is a buildup of fat cells in the liver and has two main types: Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (AFLD) and Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD). NAFLD is linked to overweight or obesity, insulin resistance, high blood sugar, and high levels of fat, while AFLD is tied to heavy alcohol consumption. Cirrhosis is the formation of scar tissue on top of normal areas of tissue and is linked to hepatitis and chronic alcohol use. Although the two have several key distinctions, both groups of fatty liver disease can lead to cirrhosis over time and when not treated. 

Ultrasonography is a reliable and accurate way to diagnose moderate to severe fatty liver disease and is often considered the diagnostic technique of choice. Similarly, ultrasounds are used in the diagnosis and evaluation of cirrhosis. According to one NIH study, ultrasound had a sensitivity of 91% and a specificity of 94% for making the diagnosis of cirrhosis.


Another way ultrasounds are used in digestive health is for ascites. Ascites are a condition in which fluid collects in spaces within your abdomen. The term ascites denotes an abnormal accumulation of fluid, which can cause pain if severe, and may keep you from moving around comfortably. The National Library of Medicine suggests an ultrasound can quantify the volume of ascites and aid in the decision process for fluid drainage. The most common cause of ascites is cirrhosis, a late-stage liver disease. In addition, different types of cancer may also cause this condition. Some symptoms of ascites may include:

  • Swelling in the abdomen
  • Weight gain
  • Sense of fullness even after not consuming a meal
  • Bloating in the abdomen
  • Nausea, vomiting, and indigestion

This type of fluid build-up is rare in healthy people and often develops as a result of other diseases. However, if left untreated, ascites can cause life-threatening complications. 

Keeping your digestive health in check plays a significant role in your overall health. Unhealthy digestion may result in unpleasant symptoms such as abdominal bloating, pain, indigestion, and other possibly damaging disorders. Want to learn more about how ultrasounds are used in digestive health? Visit our website for resources, or call us today at (205) 271-8000.

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