Ultrasound imaging, also called ultrasound scanning or sonography, is an exam that uses high-frequency sound waves far above the range of human hearing to obtain images of the inside of the body. Sound waves are directed at a particular area of the body. The different body tissues reflect the waves back in varying degrees. The echoed waves are recorded and displayed as a continuous real-time image on a computer monitor. Since the images are real-time, ultrasound has the benefit of allowing the Radiologist to see organs in motion, such as the movement of heart valves and blood flow. Ultrasound relies on sound waves rather than ionizing radiation (X-rays) to produce images, so it is ideal in many settings. This imaging technique is becoming increasingly important in the diagnosis of medical conditions in many different organs. It is also used to evaluate pregnancy conditions.
Noninvasive vascular assessment (NIVA) is a type of exam that uses Doppler ultrasound to evaluate the circulatory system. Doppler ultrasound has the advantage of providing information in various formats: audible sounds, continuous color images of the blood flow, and graphs showing changes in blood velocity as it flows through a blood vessel, including the body's major arteries and veins in the abdomen, arms, legs and neck.
What does the equipment look like?
Reasons for having an Ultrasound
Ultrasound has many applications. It can be used to look at many organs and body parts to check for disease or abnormalities. Since ultrasound provides a continuous real-time image rather than a still image, it can be particularly useful for assessing the function of body parts and as imaging guidance when performing other procedures, such as a biopsy.
Ultrasound is used to check for many conditions including: blood clots, breast abnormalities, cysts, gallstones, hernias, infection, kidney stones, pain, poor circulation, enlarged thyroid or detected lump, tumors, uterine fibroids, testicular abnormalities varicose veins.
There are many ultrasound exams. A few are described here:
Vascular ultrasound provides pictures of the body's veins and arteries. Vascular ultrasound is performed to help monitor the blood flow to organs and tissues throughout the body, locate and identify blockages (stenosis) and abnormalities like blood clots. It can also help locate plaque or emboli and help plan for their effective treatment, determine whether a patient is a good candidate for a procedure such as angioplasty, or to plan or evaluate the success of procedures that that graft or bypass blood vessels. Doppler ultrasound images can help the physician to see and evaluate blockages to blood flow (such as clots), narrowing of vessels, tumors and congenital malformation.
Ultrasound imaging is performed to evaluate the blood vessels and organs of the abdomen and pelvis. Ultrasound is used to help diagnose a variety of conditions, such as: abdominal pains, inflamed appendix, enlarged abdominal organ, stones in the gallbladder or kidney, disorders in the urinary bladder, tumors or aneurysm in the aorta.
Other uses of abdominal & pelvic ultrasound imaging include guiding procedures such as needle biopsies in which needles are used to extract a sample of cells from organs for laboratory testing and assisting in the assessment of damage caused by illness. A pelvic ultrasound provides pictures of the structures and organs in the lower belly or pelvis. There are three types of pelvic ultrasound: abdominal (transabdominal), vaginal (transvaginal or endovaginal) for women, rectal (transrectal) for men.
In women, a pelvic or abdominal ultrasound is most often performed to evaluate the bladder, ovaries, uterus, cervix, fallopian tubes. Ultrasound examinations can help diagnose symptoms experienced by women such as pelvic pain, abnormal bleeding or other menstrual problems and help identify palpable masses such as ovarian cysts and uterine fibroids, ovarian or uterine cancers. Pelvic ultrasound exams are also used to monitor the health and development of an embryo or fetus during pregnancy.
In men the prostate or transrectal ultrasound provides pictures of a man's prostate gland. It is typically used to help diagnose symptoms such as a nodule is felt by a physician during a routine physical exam or prostate cancer screening exam or an elevated blood test result. It can detect disorders within the prostate, determine whether the prostate is enlarged, detect an abnormal growth within the prostate, or help diagnose a man's infertility. It is a minimally invasive ultrasound because it sends sound waves through the rectum.
How do I prepare for an Ultrasound?
Please leave your jewelry and valuables at home. You should wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothing for your ultrasound exam. You will need to remove all clothing and jewelry in the area to be examined.
You may be asked to wear a gown during the procedure. For some exams your doctor may instruct you not to eat or drink for as many as 12 hours before your appointment. For others you may be asked to drink up to six glasses of water two hours prior to your exam and avoid urinating so that your bladder is full when the scan begins. The prep for a specific exam you are having may be found by clicking on the appropriate exam below.
- Ultrasound Liver Biopsy
- Ultrasound Renal Biopsy
- Ultrasound Paracentesis & Thoracentesis
- Abdominal Ultrasound
- Pediatric Abdominal Ultrasound
- Renal/ Urinary Tract Ultrasound
- Ultrasound Examination of the Female Pelvis
What will I experience during and after the procedure?
Most ultrasound examinations are painless, fast and easy. When you arrive for your appointment, you may be asked to partially disrobe or change into a gown, depending on the type of ultrasound you are receiving. The sonographer will explain the procedure, answer any questions you have, and position you on a padded table for the exam. After you are positioned on the examination table, the radiologist or sonographer will spread some warm gel on your skin and then press the transducer (a handheld device that produces and records sound waves) firmly against your body. The transducer will be moved back and forth over the area of interest until the desired images are captured. There may be varying degrees of discomfort from pressure as the transducer is pressed against the area being examined. If scanning is performed over an area of tenderness, you may feel pressure or minor pain from the procedure.
Ultrasound exams in which the transducer is attached to probe and inserted into an opening of the body may produce minimal discomfort. For example during a prostate ultrasound, a specially designed transducer is gently inserted into the rectum. There may be mild discomfort from the pressure of the rectal probe. A pelvic ultrasound may require that a specially designed transducer be gently inserted into the vagina. This may be done instead of or in addition to an ultrasound over the skin in the pelvic area with a regular transducer. There may be mild discomfort from the pressure of the vaginal probe. If the pelvic ultrasound is being performed to image the uterus, saline may be injected into the uterus so the vaginal probe can get more detailed images of the uterine cavity. This is called a sonohysterogram.
If a Doppler ultrasound study is performed, you may actually hear pulse-like sounds that change in pitch as the blood flow is monitored and measured. Once the imaging is complete, the gel will be wiped off your skin.
After an ultrasound exam, you should be able to resume your normal activities.
Who interprets the results and how do I get them?
A radiologist, a physician specifically trained to supervise and interpret radiology examinations, will analyze the images and send a signed report to your primary care or referring physician, who will share the results with you. In some cases the radiologist may discuss preliminary results with you at the conclusion of your examination.