Ultrasound imaging, otherwise known as sonography, uses sound waves to produce images of structures in your body.
During an ultrasound exam, an acoustic gel is applied to your skin and a small hand-held device called a transducer is used to image various organs and/or blood vessels.
Because ultrasound uses sound waves instead of radiation to create images, it is a safe way to image a pregnant woman and her unborn child.
However, ultrasound has many other uses. It can be used to exam the liver, kidneys, pancreas, gall bladder, spleen, and urinary bladder as well as the uterus, ovaries, scrotum and prostate gland.
It can be used to guide needle placement for biopsies and fluid drainages. It is used to check for clots or narrowed areas in arteries and veins.
There are other applications, as well.
How Should I Prepare for an Ultrasound?
Many ultrasound exams require no preparation. However, some require you to go without eating for 8-12 hours and to refrain from smoking.
You may be asked to drink water prior to your exam to fill your bladder for certain ultrasound exams.
You should receive the instructions for preparation from your doctor's office. You should wear comfortable clothing for your exam as you will be lying on an exam table.
How is the Exam Performed?
Most of the time, you will be lying on a table in a darkened room while the ultrasound is being performed. The sonographer will apply gel to the area being examined. It conducts the sound waves into your body.
The transducer is then moved across the area sending out sound waves and receiving the echoes. The echoes are processed by a computer and displayed on a monitor. The sonographer selects images which are sent to a monitor to be viewed by the radiologist.
An ultrasound exam can take anywhere from 15 minutes to several hours depending on the exam being performed.
Although the transducer is usually placed on the outside of the body, there are certain gynecological and obstetrical exams that require the transducer to be placed in the vagina to obtain the highest quality images.
For males, a rectal transducer is used for imaging the prostate. These transducers are specially designed for maximum quality and minimum patient discomfort.
Who Interprets the Results and When Do I Get Them?
A radiologist, who is a physician experienced in Ultrasound and other radiology examinations, will analyze the images and send a signed report with his or her interpretation to your personal physician.
Your physician will then advise you of the results.