Abdominal X-ray

This webpage presents the anatomical structures found on abdominal X-ray.

radiographie abdomen face 236x300

The Abdomen

The abdomen is the anterior part of the body’s trunk between the diaphragm and the pelvic brim(1). Pelvic brim refers to the pelvic inlet’s bony edges that separate the false (major) pelvis and true (minor) pelvis.

Abdominal muscles help regulate respiration, protect the inner organs, extend and rotate the body’s trunk, and give postural support(2).

Moreover, the abdomen works as a cavity to house vital organs in different body systems(3). These include the digestive, urinary, endocrine, exocrine, circulatory, and parts of the reproductive system.

In particular, the abdomen consists of the following(4):

  • Stomach
  • Small intestine
  • Large intestine
  • Spleen
  • Liver
  • Gallbladder
  • Pancreas
  • Uterus
  • Ovaries
  • Fallopian tubes
  • Kidneys
  • Ureters
  • Blood vessels (arteries and veins)

The abdomen consists of nine layers—from the skin (outermost part) to the peritoneum (the innermost lining of the organs or cavity wall)(5).

Moreover, this region consists of four quadrants: left upper quadrant, right upper quadrant, left lower quadrant, and right lower quadrant(6).

The left upper quadrant includes the left part of the liver, the pancreas, the larger portion of the stomach, spleen, left kidney, and parts of the small intestine(7).

The right upper quadrant consists of the right part of the liver, gallbladder, right kidney, a small part of the stomach, and parts of the small intestine(8).

In the left lower quadrant lies most of the small intestine, some of the large intestine, the left ureter, and the left female reproductive organs(9).

Meanwhile, the right lower quadrant contains the appendix, part of the small intestines, the right female reproductive organs, and the right ureter(10).

These quadrants help clinicians specify which organs in the abdominal area bring discomfort or pain(11).

X-ray of the Abdomen

An abdominal X-ray uses a small amount of ionizing radiation to create images of the inside of the abdominal cavity(12). It helps assess the stomach, intestines, liver, and sleep. Moreover, it can help diagnose unexplained pain, nausea, or vomiting.

Meanwhile, KUB (kidney, ureter, and bladder) X-ray refers to an X-ray of the kidneys, ureters, and bladder(13). The procedure can detect kidney stones, an obstruction or blockage, a perforation or hole in the intestines, or an abdominal mass, including a tumor(14).

An abdominal X-ray can help verify whether medical tubes are in the right position in organs, like the stomach or intestines(15).

An abdominal X-ray is painless and safe(16). The procedure is also quick and easy, making it a useful tool in emergency diagnosis and treatment.

What to Expect from an Abdominal X-ray

Before the Test

An abdominal X-ray does not need special preparation(17). During the exam, patients need to remove some of their clothes and change into a hospital gown.

Moreover, they have to remove jewelry, eyeglasses, and other metal objects that may interfere with the X-ray images.

Those who have undergone a barium sulfate contrast material X-ray or taken medications must inform the doctor as these may interfere with the X-ray(18).

Before the test, the doctor may ask the patients to empty their bladder.

Meanwhile, women must inform the doctor and the X-ray technologist if they have an intrauterine device (IUD) inserted to prevent pregnancy.

Furthermore, they should inform the physician and the X-ray technologist of any possibility that they are pregnant. To avoid exposing the fetus to radiation, medical professionals do not usually perform an abdominal X-ray on pregnant women(19).

Given their location, the ovaries and uterus cannot be shielded during the abdominal X-ray(20). A common and safe alternative for pregnant women is an abdominal ultrasound.

During the Test

The procedure may last for 15 minutes(21). However, actual exposure to radiation is often less than a second.

Patients enter a special room with a table and a huge X-ray machine hanging from the ceiling. Intensive care units (ICUs) and emergency departments may have portable X-rays.

The technologist positions the patients on the X-ray table. The X-ray machine is positioned over one’s abdominal area.

The patient should hold still and may have to hold his or her breath for a few seconds to avoid getting a blurred image. Meanwhile, the technologist walks behind a wall into the other room to activate the machine.

For additional images, the technologist may ask the patient to lie on their side or stand up.

After the Test

A radiologist interprets the X-ray images and sends a report to the physician. The physician reviews the X-ray results with the patient.

It takes a day or two to obtain the results. However, in an emergency, results can be obtained quickly.


  1. Wade CI, Streitz MJ. Anatomy, Abdomen and Pelvis, Abdomen. [Updated 2020 Jul 27]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2020 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK553104/
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. MedlinePlus. Abdominal exploration - series—Normal anatomy. Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/presentations/100049_1.htm
  5. Wade CI. (2020). Op Cit.
  6. Medicine LibreTexts. Abdominopelvic Regions. Retrieved from https://med.libretexts.org/Bookshelves/Anatomy_and_Physiology/Book%3A_Anatomy_and_Physiology_(Boundless)/1%3A_Introduction_to_Anatomy_and_Physiology/1.4%3A_Mapping_the_Body/1.4F%3A_Abdominopelvic_Regions
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Radiology Info. X-ray (Radiography) - Abdomen. Retrieved from https://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?pg=abdominrad#:~:text=Abdominal%20x%2Dray%20is%20a,called%20a%20KUB%20x%2Dray
  13. Ibid.
  14. KidsHealth. X-Ray Exam: Abdomen. Retrieved from https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/xray-abdomen.html
  15. Ibid.
  16. Ibid.
  17. Radiology Info. Op Cit.
  18. Ibid.
  19. Ibid.
  20. Ibid.
  21. Ibid.

References

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