Ultrasound imaging is a test that uses sound waves to make detailed pictures of your organs. There are three different kinds of ultrasound imaging: abdominal, pelvic, and Doppler ultrasound. Each of these imaging tests can help your healthcare provider assess pain or other symptoms in different parts of your body.

Ultrasound does not involve any radiation, and is generally a very safe procedure. Still, you should discuss any concerns with your healthcare provider.

Preparing for the Ultrasound

Be sure to follow your healthcare provider's instructions before the test. If you do not follow the instructions, your test may be postponed or cancelled.

Allow extra time to check in before your ultrasound. If you are having an abdominal ultrasound, you may be asked not to eat or drink for several hours before your test. This includes water, coffee, and any other liquids.

For a pelvic ultrasound, you may be asked to have a full bladder for the test. If you are having a pelvic ultrasound of your rectum, you will likely need an enema beforehand. Before the test begins, you may be asked to undress from the waist down, or you may be asked to put on a gown.

The ultrasound may take from thirty minutes to one hour.

Let the Sonographer Know

Your sonogram technician, or sonographer, may ask questions about your health. Your answers will help tailor the test to your needs. The questions may address your overall health, the reasons you are having the ultrasound, any prior abdominal surgery or ultrasounds you may have had, and any medications you are currently taking.

Tell your sonographer if you have had an ultrasound exam of the area before, or if you have had any pelvic surgery. If you are having a Doppler ultrasound, you should also tell your sonographer if you have had a stroke or stroke symptoms, including short-term loss of strength, speech, or vision.

During Imaging

The imaging process will vary somewhat, depending on what your healthcare provider is looking for. For example, abdominal ultrasound can help detect organ problems like gallstones, kidney stones, or liver disease. Pelvic ultrasound can be used to examine the bladder, uterus, ovaries, or prostate, and is used in pregnant women to check the fetus. Doppler ultrasound can detect narrow or blocked arteries, or blood clots in your blood vessels.

Ultrasound may also be used to screen for health conditions that do not necessarily have symptoms.

Ultrasound is usually performed while lying down. During a pelvic procedure, you may need to lie on your back with your knees raised. In all cases, the part of your body that is being examined will be exposed to sound waves that come from a handheld transducer, or probe.

Your sonographer will use a nongreasy gel to help the sound waves provide clearer pictures. It may feel wet, but it will not harm your skin or clothes. The gel will be applied to the area where the probe will contact your body-often your abdomen, neck, or thigh.

During a pelvic ultrasound, the probe may be moved across the outside of your pelvis, or it may be placed inside your vagina or rectum. If you prefer, you may be able to insert the probe yourself. You may feel some pressure, but the ultrasound should not be painful. Let your sonographer know if you feel any pain during the test.

You may be able to see images of your own organs on the sonographer's screen during the procedure. If you are having a Doppler ultrasound, you may see images of your blood flow on a screen, and you may hear the whooshing sound of your blood flowing. If you are pregnant, you may see onscreen images of your fetus, and hear your fetus' heartbeat.

After Your Ultrasound

Before leaving, you may need to wait for a short time while the images are being reviewed. You can usually have something to eat and drink right after your test. You can also get back to the rest of your normal routine.

The Next Step

Although your sonographer can answer your questions about the test, only your healthcare provider can explain the results. Ask when the ultrasound results will be ready. Talk with your healthcare provider about the results of the test, and any further testing or treatment that you may need.

Alternative Tests/Treatment

Other imaging options may be available for you. These include computed tomography, or CT, and magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI. CT makes images using x-rays, computers, and a contrast material. MRI uses magnets and radio waves to form detailed images. The imaging option that is best for you will depend on what your healthcare provider is looking for, as well as the circumstances of your health. Discuss your imaging options with your healthcare provider.

What We Have Learned

Ultrasound uses sound waves to produce images of your organs and blood vessels.
True or False
The answer is True.

The gel that is used for an ultrasound helps create a clear image.
True or False
The answer is True.

Ultrasound exams should not be painful.
True or False
The answer is True.