What is an Ultrasound

An Ultrasound scan is a medical test that uses high frequency sound waves to make images or "see" the internal organs in your body. Ultrasound does not use X-rays, or radiation, and is generally painless and non-invasive. An ultrasound creates images of soft tissue (showing density and form), it detects tumors (cystic vs. solid) and lesions, gallstones, kidney stones, and it images blood flow. Ultrasound exams are most commonly used to study:

  • a developing fetus
  • abdominal and pelvic organs
  • thyroid
  • blood vessels
  • heart

Ultrasound can also be used to guide the physician in performing biopsies and other invasive procedures.

Transmission gel is applied to the area of your body being imaged. The transducer, a hand-held microphone device, is rolled over the part of the body being imaged and sends a signal that processes the data and produces the ultrasound image. Ultrasounds are performed by an ultrasound technologist, usually referred to as a sonographer. 

What to Expect During Your Ultrasound Exam?

Once you arrive for your procedure you may be asked to change into a hospital gown depending on what part of the body is being examined. For areas of the body such as the thyroid or an ultrasound during pregnancy may not require you to change out of your clothes.

You will be asked to lie down on an exam table and a warm gel will be applied to the area being examined. The sonographer will place the transducer on the part of the  body being examined and rolls the transducer around to view different angles of the area being examined and will take snapshots and measurements for the radiologist to review and send to the physician.

Preparing for Your Exam

Each ultrasound has required preparations. The most frequently performed exams with their preparations are listed below. If instructions are not listed, your physician will inform you about your exam.

  • Abdomen: Do not eat or drink after midnight the night before. The exam takes 30 to 45 minutes.
  • Aorta: Same preparation as abdomen. The exam takes 15 to 30 minutes.
  • Gallbladder: Same preparation as abdomen. The exam takes 20 to 40 minutes.
  • Obstetrical: A full bladder is necessary. Drink 32 ounces of liquid one hour before your scheduled exam time and do not empty your bladder. During the first three months of pregnancy, a vaginal ultrasound is also performed (see Pelvis below). The exam takes 45 to 60 minutes.
  • Pelvis: A full bladder is necessary. Drink 32 ounces of liquid one hour before your scheduled exam time and do not empty your bladder. Our routine exam may include two studies; one performed externally and one with a vaginal probe. The vaginal probe is slightly larger than a tampon. This probe is inserted into the vagina with very little discomfort. Both exams take 30 to 45 minutes.

What to Expect After Your Ultrasound

As soon as your exam is over, the results are sent to a radiologist to interpret and make a report for the physician. Your physician will review the report and images and will discuss the findings with you at your next appointment.