October 04, 2021

Diagnostic vs. Therapeutic Ultrasound

Female doctor using an ultrasound machine on a female patient's neck.

An ultrasound is a non-invasive procedure that uses sound waves to capture images from inside the human body. It’s probably best known for enabling care providers to “see” the baby developing in a mother’s womb. But there are many other uses for ultrasound, both as a treatment and as an imaging tool. This article explains the difference between therapeutic and diagnostic ultrasound.

What Is Diagnostic Ultrasound?

With ultrasounds, the clearest diagnostic vs. therapeutic definition would be that diagnostic ultrasound is used to assess medical conditions whereas therapeutic ultrasound is used to treat them. 

How, specifically, is diagnostic ultrasound utilized? In many ways, including with:

  • Heart conditions. Ultrasound is used to determine the type and extent of heart problems.
  • Tumors. Precisely where is a tumor located, how big is it, and what are its other attributes? Ultrasound can help answer these and other important questions. 
  • Infections. An ultrasound scan can help a doctor understand the cause of a patient’s pain and swelling so that it can be treated effectively. 
  • Clots and blood flow problems. Like with tumors, ultrasound can aid doctors as they attempt to pinpoint the location of clots and other issues affecting a patient’s circulatory system.
  • Invasive procedures. If a needle-administered anesthetic or a needle biopsy is needed, ultrasound can be used by doctors and technicians to visualize the area and guide the needle. 
  • Brain abnormalities in babies. Ultrasound can provide images of a baby’s brain to help doctors identify and assess problem areas.

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What Is Therapeutic Ultrasound?

In terms of therapeutic ultrasound vs. diagnostic ultrasound, the former is used to treat a wide variety of conditions. It does this in different ways, including that sound waves — and the body’s response to them — can increase blood flow, promote tissue healing, and reduce swelling and inflammation. 

Specific conditions that can improve with ultrasound treatment include:

  • Uterine growths. Ultrasound can aid in the removal of fibroids and other non-cancerous uterine growths. 
  • Bone fractures. Sound waves can stimulate bone growth to speed healing. 
  • Cysts and tumors. Ultrasound can be used to treat various types of abnormal growths.
  • Cataracts. Doctors use ultrasound to remove cataracts. 
  • Kidney stones. Sound waves can break up kidney stones and gallstones so that they can be removed or passed more easily.
  • Sprains, strains, and tendonitis. Sound waves can be used to warm muscles, tendons, and other tissues to promote healing. 

Ultrasound can also play a role in surgical procedures, where it can cut tissue or produce what’s called hemostasis or the stopping of blood flow.

What Is the Difference Between Therapeutic and Diagnostic Ultrasound?

One of the main differences in diagnostic vs. therapeutic ultrasound is in the roles of the healthcare professionals who use them. Someone who provides diagnostic ultrasound scans generally only sees the patient once for the imaging procedure. The person using ultrasound therapeutically plans and delivers the treatments, and typically sees the patient multiple times.

So, if your doctor only needs information about your condition, you’ll receive diagnostic ultrasound. If your condition has been diagnosed and sound waves can help with your treatment and healing, you’ll receive therapeutic ultrasound. 

Learn More About Imaging & Diagnostics at Baptist Health

Baptist Health provides safe and efficient inpatient and outpatient diagnostic imaging for adults and for children (imaging for children available at only some locations). As one of the area’s most advanced diagnostic imaging centers, our services are fully integrated with our excellent medical care. In this way, we work together to detect the earliest signs of disease or injury and provide expert treatment. Learn more about our services, or find a provider near you.

Next Steps and Useful Resources:

Find a Provider
Types of Ultrasounds
Are there Differences Between a Sonogram vs. an Ultrasound?
Cysts vs. Tumors

Learn More.