You may associate ultrasound with a developing fetus, but actually ultrasound is used in many areas of medicine. Ultrasound scanning is a painless medical test that helps physicians diagnose and treat medical conditions. Ultrasound exams do not use radiation (x-ray), but sound waves to produce images of the inside of the body. Ultrasound imaging can include examinations of the abdomen, breast, blood vessels, heart, thyroid, and fetus.
Ultrasound is often used to examine the internal structures of the abdomen. The size and structure of the kidneys, liver, spleen, pancreas, and aorta within the abdomen can easily be examined.
Ultrasound is commonly used, but not limited to:
• Evaluate a fetus during pregnancy
• Diagnose gall bladder disease
• Evaluate blood flow in vessels
• Guide a needle biopsy for fluid or tissue
• Check the thyroid gland
• Evaluate your heart
• Reveal abnormalities in the scrotum and prostate
• Evaluate a lump in the breast
• Evaluate the kidneys and ureters
• Evaluate the uterus and ovaries
• Evaluate liver disease
Conventional ultrasound displays the images on a monitor. Three- dimensional (3-D) ultrasound formats the sound wave into 3-D images. A Doppler ultrasound study is a special ultrasound technique that evaluates blood as it flows through a blood vessel, including the body’s major arteries and veins in the abdomen, arms, legs and neck.
For most ultrasound examinations, the patient is positioned lying face-up on an examination table. A clear gel is applied to the area of the body being studied. The gel helps eliminate air pockets between the transducer and the skin. The technologist specially trained in ultrasound imaging (sonographer) or radiologist then puts a small hand held device (transducer) about the size of a bar of soap, against the skin and sweeps it back and forth over the area of interest.
Though the majority of ultrasound examinations are performed with a transducer on your skin, some ultrasound examinations are done inside your body. For these exams, the transducer is attached to a probe that is inserted into a natural opening in your body. Examples of these exams include transrectal ultrasound where the transducer is inserted into a man’s rectum to view his prostate and a transvaginal ultrasound in which the transducer is inserted into a woman’s vagina to view her uterus and ovaries.
Our radiologist, a physician who specializes in creating and interpreting imaging, will analyze the images and send a signed report to your primary care or referring physician, who will share the results with you. In some cases the radiologist may discuss preliminary results with you at the conclusion of your examination.
Physicians use ultrasound to evaluate breast abnormalities that have been found with screening or diagnostic mammography or during a clinical breast exam. Breast ultrasound is also known as sonography or ultrasonography, is often used to evaluate breast abnormalities. Ultrasound uses sound waves and picks up the echoes to create images and allows imaging the breast from any orientation. Though breast ultrasound has excellent contrast resolution, it lacks the detail (spatial resolution) of mammography and is usually used to investigate an abnormality detected by mammography or found during a breast exam. It is not a substitute for mammography, except in special circumstances like pregnancy or the lactating breast.
Ultrasound is also useful in helping radiologists guide a breast biopsy to determine whether a breast abnormality is cancerous or not.
What is it like having an ultrasound?
You will lie down on a table. The technologist will apply a gel to the part of the skin over which the transducer (a hand-held probe) will pass. The gel serves two purposes: It lubricates the skin and enhances the transmission of the sound waves. The gel feels cool and slippery.
During the test the technologist or the doctor moves the transducer back and forth. You may be asked to hold your breath during the scan to prevent excess movement. The operator may adjust knobs or dials to increase the depth to which the sound waves are sent.
Does a breast ultrasound show more than a mammogram?
Mammography is still the best way to image the entire breast. Ultrasound is used to target certain areas in question on the mammogram, as well as lumps and painful areas that the patient or physician is concerned about. Breast ultrsound is a compliment to mammography.
Why do I have to have a full bladder for a pelvic ultrasound?
A distended bladder acts as a “window” through which the sound waves travel and allows the sonographer to visualize the pelvic organs. A distended bladder also displaces bowel, which can prevent visualization of the pelvic organs.
Why do I have to fast for an abdominal ultrasound?
Fasting reduces the amount of air in the stomach and intestines which can interfere with visualization of the abdominal organs. It also ensures that the gallbladder will be distended so it can be thoroughly evaluated.
Can you tell me the sex of my baby?
If the baby is in a good position for the sonographer to see the genital region, the baby’s sex can be determined. The sex can be determined as early as 14 to 16 weeks, although it may not be clearly visible until 20 to 22 weeks.
What is 3D ultrasound?
3D ultrasound is a medical ultrasound technique used during pregnancy, providing three dimensional images of the fetus. In 3D fetal scanning, however, instead of the sound waves being sent straight down and reflected back, they are sent at different angles. The returning echoes are processed by a sophisticated computer program resulting in a reconstructed three dimensional volume image of fetus’s surface or internal organs; allowing one to see width, height and depth of images in much the same way as 3D movies but no movement is shown.
Will my insurance company pay for 3D ultrasound of my baby?
A 3D ultrasound is not a medically necessary exam, so insurance companies do not pay for it. You might consider this ultrasound as investment much like hiring a professional photographer.
How and when will I get the results of the exam?
Your doctor should receive a written report in 3 to 5 business days. If requested by your physician, a report can be called to him/her the day of the exam. Your results will be available to you from your doctor.