Updated 22 September 2015

Abdominal X-ray

An abdominal film is an X-ray image of the structures and organs in the abdomen.


Alternative names

Abdominal film, X-ray abdomen, KUB (if the test is done to look for problems associated with the kidneys, ureters or bladder).

What is an abdominal X-ray?

An abdominal film is an X-ray image of the structures and organs in the abdomen. These include the stomach, liver, spleen, kidneys, bladder, intestines and the diaphragm (which is the muscle that separates the abdomen and chest).

What are the common uses of the procedure?

  • An abdominal film is often the first examination done to find a cause for abdominal pain or nausea and vomiting.
  • To identify causes for abdominal swelling such as a blockage in the intestine.
  • To identify suspected problems in the urinary system such as kidney stones.
  • To locate an object that has been swallowed or put into a body cavity.
  • Confirm the proper position of lines and tubes used by your doctor for treatment such as a tube to drain the stomach (nasogastric tube), a feeding tube in the stomach or a tube to drain the kidney (nephrostomy tube).

How should I prepare?

Before the test you should tell the radiographer if you are or may be pregnant. An abdominal film is not usually done during pregnancy because of the radiation danger to your baby (foetus).

You should inform the radiographer if you had an X-ray test using barium contrast such as a barium enema or swallow in the last 4 days as this can influence the picture quality.

You may need to take off any jewellery that will be in the way of the X-ray picture.

How is the procedure performed?

The test is usually performed in a radiology department by a radiology technologist (radiographer) or health care provider.

You will wear a hospital gown during the procedure.

You will lie on your back on the X-ray table and a lead apron may be place over your lower pelvic area.

The X-ray machine is positioned over your abdomen. You will then be asked to hold your breath while the X-ray pictures are taken, so that the picture will not be blurry.

You may be asked to turn on you side (this is called a decubitus view) or stand up (this is called an erect view) for additional pictures. The erect view can help to identify leaking air from a hole (perforation) in the intestine or blockage of the intestine.

The radiographer will step behind a protective window while the picture is taken.

An abdominal film takes about 5 to 10 minutes, you may be asked to wait while the film is being developed in case more pictures need to be taken. X-rays can also be made immediately on a computer screen (digitally).

This examination does not cause any discomfort, however the X-ray table may feel hard and the room may be cold. If you have an injury you may find that the positions you need to hold can be painful.


There is low radiation exposure, however X-rays are monitored and regulated to keep the procedure safe or within acceptable limits.

What are the limitations of the procedure?

An abdominal film gives a good overview of the abdomen and its contents, but poor detail on specific solid organs such as the liver, spleen or kidneys.

It may be supplemented by investigations such as an ultrasound or CT scan of the abdomen for additional information.


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