Ultrasound and its Uses

Also known as sonography, ultrasound tests use sound waves to create images of what’s happening inside the body. An instrument called a transducer emits a high-frequency sound, and the echoes the sound waves produce help determine size, shape, and consistency of soft tissues and organs under the skin.

This data is then transferred to images on a computer screen, which is produced in real time. An ultrasound technician, or sonographer, will perform the test, and a radiologist or doctor will interpret the results.

Ultrasound imaging has many uses for confirmation, diagnosis, and treatment of medical conditions. Some of these include:

  • •Pregnancy: Ultrasounds can help determine a due date or reveal the presence of multiple children, but they can also detect potential birth defects, placental issues, and other problems before birth.
  • •Diagnostics: Doctors can use ultrasounds to diagnose conditions, including those in the heart, blood vessels, liver, gallbladder, spleen, pancreas, kidneys, bladder, uterus, ovaries, eyes, thyroid, and testicles. Ultrasound waves do not transmit well through dense bones or parts of the body that hold air or gas, however, such as the bowel.
  • •Medical procedures: Ultrasounds can be used to help guide certain procedures.
  • •Therapeutic applications: Ultrasounds can be used to detect and treat soft-tissue injuries.
 

Types of Ultrasounds

In most cases, your doctor will use a transducer on the surface of the skin to perform an ultrasound. In some cases, though, a better image can be created by inserting a special transducer into one of the body’s openings, including:

  • •Transvaginal ultrasound: A transducer wand is placed in the vagina to get better images of the uterus and ovaries.
  • •Transrectal ultrasound: Used in the diagnosis of prostate conditions.
  • •Transesophageal echocardiogram: A transducer probe in the esophagus to help the sonographer get better images of the heart.

Several other types of imaging are possible with ultrasound technology:

  • •Doppler: A special kind of ultrasound that takes images of blood flow in blood vessels
  • •Echocardiograms: To view the heart
  • •3D imaging: Three-dimensional images rather than flat 2D images made by traditional ultrasound
  • •4D ultrasound can show 3D images in motion

Benefits of Ultrasounds

Ultrasounds come with several benefits:

  • •They’re typically painless and require no needles, injections or incisions of any kind.
  • •Patients aren’t exposed to any radiation, making the procedure safer than X-rays or CT scans. There are no known harmful effects of ultrasounds when they’re performed properly.
  • •Ultrasounds can capture soft tissue images that don’t show up well on X-rays.
  • •Ultrasounds are widely accessible and generally less expensive than other diagnostic methods.

What to Expect

A few things to expect before or during an ultrasound test include:

  • •Depending on the type of test, your doctor may tell you not to eat or drink anything for some number of hours before the test.
  • •Alternatively, you may specifically be asked to drink several glasses of water and avoid using the bathroom so that your bladder is full for the test.
  • •Wear comfortable clothing that’s easy to fully or partially removed.
  • •You may have to disrobe or wear a gown, though the area that’s being screened can often be accessed without this.
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