The use of ultrasonography to scan the abdomen of patients presenting for routine physical examinations

J Fam Pract. 1994 Apr;38(4):380-5.


Background: Ultrasonography has become an increasingly important diagnostic tool, producing high-quality images at a low cost. However, except in obstetrics, ultrasonography has not been used for screening purposes in asymptomatic persons.

Methods: This prospective study included 189 patients on whom an abdominal ultrasound scan was performed by a family physician as part of a routine physical examination. During the 2-year follow-up period, the screening was evaluated by determining whether the ultrasound findings contributed to the patient's health care management.

Results: Forty-two of the patients (22%) were found to have previously undiagnosed conditions. The most common findings were gallstones, urinary retention, and renal cysts. Six patients (3%) received treatment for the condition detected by the screening, but three of these patients received treatment only after they developed symptoms during the 2-year follow-up period. One patient developed symptoms for gallstones that may have been missed by the screening ultrasound. The internal and external reliability rates for the screening examination were 96% and 82%, respectively.

Conclusions: Ultrasound findings altered the treatment plan for 3% of the screened patients but was the sole factor leading to treatment in only 1.6%. Abdominal ultrasound can be performed accurately and at a reasonable cost by generalist physicians. Patient acceptance was high, and many reported feeling reassured by the ultrasound screening.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Abdomen / diagnostic imaging*
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aortic Aneurysm, Abdominal / diagnostic imaging
  • Cholelithiasis / diagnostic imaging
  • Cholelithiasis / surgery
  • Evaluation Studies as Topic
  • Family Practice
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Health Services Research
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • New York
  • Physical Examination*
  • Rural Health
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Ultrasonography
  • Urinary Retention / diagnostic imaging
  • Urinary Retention / etiology