Most CT dose data aggregation methods do not currently adjust dose values for patient size. This work proposes a simple heuristic for reliably computing an effective diameter of a patient from an abdominal CT image. Evaluation of this method on 106 patients scanned on Philips Brilliance 64 and Brilliance Big Bore scanners demonstrates close correspondence between computed and manually measured patient effective diameters, with a mean absolute error of 1.0 cm (error range +2.2 to -0.4 cm). This level of correspondence was also demonstrated for 60 patients on Siemens, General Electric, and Toshiba scanners. A calculated effective diameter in the middle slice of an abdominal CT study was found to be a close approximation of the mean calculated effective diameter for the study, with a mean absolute error of approximately 1.0 cm (error range +3.5 to -2.2 cm). Furthermore, the mean absolute error for an adjusted mean volume computed tomography dose index (CTDIvol) using a mid-study calculated effective diameter, versus a mean per-slice adjusted CTDIvol based on the calculated effective diameter of each slice, was 0.59 mGy (error range 1.64 to -3.12 mGy). These results are used to calculate approximate normalized dose length product values in an abdominal CT dose database of 12,506 studies.