An abdominal x-ray is a quick, basic test to determine if there is a current obstruction, blockage, unusual air pattern, or ileus in the small bowel. This test only takes a few minutes to complete and is not invasive. It is often the first test used to look for the cause of abdominal pain, distention, nausea, and vomiting.

Before the procedure:

There is usually no preparation required. Patients who think there is any chance they are pregnant should inform the technician before the procedure. Also, he/she should notify the radiologist of any recent tests involving contrast dye or barium as this could affect the ability to read the results.

During the procedure:

The patient will be asked to wear a heavy, protective covering in order to reduce exposure to radiation. Images may be taken as the patient is lying down and/or sitting up. Often, he/she will be asked to hold his/her breath as the images are being taken. Typically, only two pictures are taken, but more may be needed upon review. Abdominal x-rays usually only last 5-10 minutes.

After the procedure:

As long as there are no emergent issues that show up in the x-ray, normal activities may be resumed.


Abnormal results may indicate an obstruction, blockage, or tumor. It can show abnormal air/fluid patterns and occasionally, gall stones. Sometimes an abnormally thick bowel will be apparent.