Gallbladder Ultrasound

What is a Gallbladder?

The gallbladder is a small organ located on the right-hand side of an individual’s abdomen, beneath the liver. Its main function is to deliver bile into the small and large intestines. Bile is green-yellow fluid produced in the liver and stored in the gallbladder and works to help the intestines digest food content and absorb nutrients.

What is a Gallbladder Ultrasound?

A gallbladder ultrasound employs sound wave technology in order to capture an image of the gallbladder so that medical experts may evaluate whether the organ is properly structured. Unlike a generalized abdominal ultrasound, a gallbladder ultrasound (often referred to as right upper quadrant ultrasound) is a more specialized procedure to test the gallbladder and ducts attached to it, and the patient undergoing the procedure may need to order further tests later.

What Are the Necessary Steps of a Gallbladder Ultrasound Procedure?

Patients scheduled to undergo a gallbladder scan need to avoid eating foods with fat in them for approximately 12 to 18 hours before the test. They should also stop eating and drinking 8 to 12 hours before the test. The emptier the digestive system is before any imaging test or medical evaluation, the better the chances are that a proper diagnosis will be reached. Do not bring any jewelry or clothes with metal accessories, as these items will need to be removed before the test can begin.

Gallbladder ultrasounds are performed by radiologists, who are medical doctors that are experts in diagnosing diseases by looking at medical images such as x-ray, MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and other scans. Sometimes, the actual technician doing the procedure will be a sonographer (an ultrasound expert), but a radiologist will always be the the one to interpret the images.

The patient will be asked to remove his or her clothing, wear a paper gown and lie still on an examination table. The doctor or technician will spread a warm gelatin solution on the right-hand side of the abdomen, around the area where the gallbladder is located. The gel is supposed to reduce interference for the transducer, the primary device used in ultrasound procedures. Then, the transducer, a handheld device, is simply moved back and forth on top of the body, emitting sound waves that allow a moving picture of the gallbladder to be projected on a television screen in the same room. The picture will show movement of blood through blood vessels as well as structural properties of the gallbladder. The entire gallbladder ultrasound procedure will take no more than 1 hour, and you can return to normal activities right after the test is completed.

What Gallbladder Diseases Can Ultrasounds Detect?

The image produced by a gallbladder ultrasound can help a doctor diagnose several different health conditions. The most commonly detected gallbladder problems found are gallstones (rock-like deposits usually made up of cholesterol that form in the gallbladder) and cholecystitis (inflammation of gallbladder tissue). If there is any blockage of the bile ducts located between the liver and the gallbladder, a doctor may also be able to detect its location after a gallbladder ultrasound.


Reviewed 12/29/2011 by David M. Nolan, M.D.
Diplomate of the American Board of Internal Medicine, 2011
Currently a Fellow of Gastroenterology, at UCI 2011-2014