June 21, 2022

Are There Differences Between a Sonogram vs. an Ultrasound?

Reviewed by: Aaron Stewart, MD, Obstetrics & Gynecology

Is an Ultrasound and a Sonogram the Same Thing?

Sonography is the application of ultrasound technology to diagnose medical conditions. Sonographers are trained medical technicians who perform ultrasounds, generate images of your body, and provide doctors with the images. Sonography is sometimes called ultrasonography.

The terms “sonogram” and “ultrasound” are often used interchangeably. While people will generally understand what’s meant regardless of which word is used, technically they’re not synonyms.

The confusion is likely a result of the usage of both terms in the description of “sonography”. What is sonography? Sonography refers to the use of ultrasound tools for diagnostic purposes. In general, an ultrasound is a procedure and a sonogram is the picture it produces.

More on the difference between sonogram and ultrasound is provided below.

What is an Ultrasound?

An ultrasound is a simple, radiation-free, non-invasive procedure. Many people are familiar with it from its use during pregnancy to provide doctors with an image of the fetus in a mother’s womb. However, there are many other uses of an ultrasound.

How Does an Ultrasound Work?

An ultrasound uses sound waves to produce a picture of a structure or area inside the body, or to affect tissue in the body. There are multiple types of ultrasounds, including:

  • Elastography is used to determine what is healthy tissue and what is a tumor.
  • Bone sonography helps doctors tell how dense bone is.
  • Doppler ultrasound is used to assess blood flow in the heart and blood vessels.
  • Therapeutic ultrasound can break up or heat tissue as a form of treatment.
  • High intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) is used to help the body eliminate abnormal tissue.

Often, an ultrasound is used on the skin surface. However, in some cases, a device is inserted into a body opening to capture a better image. Examples include:

What is an Ultrasound Used For?

Ultrasounds can be used in many ways. One area where they’re useful is in diagnostics. The images captured using ultrasound technology help doctors diagnose conditions affecting soft tissues and organs.

Doctors use ultrasounds to examine the following soft tissues and organs:

In medical procedures, ultrasounds can be used to help guide a doctor such as when they’re performing a needle biopsy. Ultrasounds can also be used therapeutically to help treat soft tissue injuries.

What is a Sonogram?

A sonogram is an image produced by an ultrasound procedure. The term sonogram loosely translates as “sound writing,” since the sound waves effectively “write” the image that’s produced.

What is a Sonogram Used For?

Sonograms assist doctors in evaluating organs for infections, damage, or disease. Pregnant women may get ultrasounds to generate sonograms of the fetus. Doing so allows a doctor to check a baby’s development and health.

Reading a Sonogram Picture

Reading the sonogram from a prenatal ultrasound is easy if you know what to look for. For example, black areas generally indicate fluid, such as amniotic fluid or blood.  Bright white areas indicate solid structures such as bone.  In between would be shades of gray that would represent organ structures. With that in mind, identifying things like the baby’s head or legs can help you get oriented.

sonogram picture

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Next Steps and Useful Resources

Find a Provider
Diagnostic vs. Therapeutic Ultrasound
Types of Ultrasounds
Pregnancy Ultrasound Schedule by Week

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