An ultrasound scan, sometimes called a sonogram, is a procedure that uses high-frequency sound waves to create an image of part of the inside of the body. It can be used to monitor an unborn baby, diagnose a condition, or guide a surgeon during certain procedures. A person who specializes in conducting ultrasound scan for others is called a “sonographer.”
Ultrasound scans are safe and widely used by many all around the world and no special preparation is normally necessary before an ultrasound scan. The most common use of ultrasound scan is to check the progress of a pregnancy. Doctors also require ultrasound scan for diagnosis or treatment of some diseases that affect our internal organs.
Why Ultrasound Scan is Necessary in Health Care
Ultrasound is used for many reasons, including to:
- View the uterus and ovaries during pregnancy and monitor the developing baby’s health.
- Diagnose gallbladder disease.
- Evaluate blood flow.
- Guide a needle for biopsy or tumor treatment.
- Examine a breast lump.
- Check your thyroid gland.
- Detect genital and prostate problems.
- Assess joint inflammation (synovitis).
- Evaluate metabolic bone disease.
Ultrasounds also offer many advantages to both patients and doctors :
- They are generally painless and do not require needles, injections, or incisions.
- Patients are not exposed to ionizing radiation, making the procedure safer than diagnostic techniques such as X-rays and CT scans. In fact, there are no known harmful effects when used as directed by your health care provider.
- Ultrasound captures images of soft tissues that don’t show up well on X-rays.
- Ultrasounds are widely accessible and less expensive than other methods
How Ultrasound Scans Work
During an ultrasound scan procedure, a small device called an ultrasound probe is used, which gives off high-frequency sound waves. You can’t hear these sound waves, but when they bounce off different parts of the body, they create “echoes” that are picked up by the probe and turned into a moving image. This image is displayed on a monitor while the scan is carried out. Most ultrasound scans last between 15 and 45 minutes.
Whiles preparing for an ultrasound scan, there are some types of ultrasound scan in which you may be asked to follow certain instructions to help improve the quality of the images produced. For example, you may be advised to:
- Drink water and not go to the toilet until after the scan – this may be needed before a scan of your unborn baby or your pelvic area.
- Avoid eating or drinking for several hours before the scan – this may be needed before a scan of your digestive system, including the liver and gallbladder.
- Depending on the area of your body being examined, the sonographer may ask you to remove some clothing and wear a hospital gown.
- If you need a sedative to help you relax, this will be given through a small tube into the back of your hand or into your arm.
- In some cases, you may also be given an injection of a harmless substance called a “contrast agent” before the scan, as this can make the images clearer.
Types of Ultrasound Scan
There are different kinds of ultrasound scans, depending on which part of the body is being scanned and why. In most cases, there are no after-effects and you can go home soon after the scan is finished. If a sedative wasn’t used, you can drive, eat, drink and return to your other normal activities straightaway and if you were given a sedative to help you relax, you’ll usually be advised to stay in hospital for a few hours until the medication starts to wear off.
You may be told the results of your scan soon after it’s been carried out, but in most cases the images will need to be analysed and a report will be sent to the doctor who referred you for the scan. They’ll discuss the results with you a few days later or at your next appointment, if one’s been arranged.
Here is a brief description of the 3 basic types of ultrasound scan and techniques usually conducted.
1. External ultrasound scan
An external ultrasound scan is most often used to examine your heart or an unborn baby in your womb. It can also be used to examine the liver, kidneys and other organs in the abdomen and pelvis, as well as other organs or tissues that can be assessed through the skin, such as muscles and joints.
A small handheld probe is placed on your skin and moved over the part of the body being examined. A lubricating gel is put on your skin to allow the probe to move smoothly. This also ensures there’s continuous contact between the probe and the skin. You shouldn’t feel anything other than the sensor and gel on your skin (which is often cold).
If you’re having a scan of your womb or pelvic area, you may have a full bladder that causes you a little discomfort. There will be a toilet nearby to empty your bladder once the scan is complete.
2. Internal Ultrasound Scan
An internal examination allows a doctor to look more closely inside the body at organs such as the prostate gland, ovaries or womb. A “transvaginal” ultrasound means “through the vagina”. During the procedure, you’ll be asked to either lie on your back, or on your side with your knees drawn up towards your chest.
A small ultrasound probe with a sterile cover, not much wider than a finger, is then gently passed into the vagina or rectum and images are transmitted to a monitor. Internal examinations may cause some discomfort, but don’t usually cause any pain and shouldn’t take very long.
3. Endoscopic ultrasound scan
During an endoscopic ultrasound scan, an endoscope is inserted into your body, usually through your mouth, to examine areas such as your stomach or oesophagus. You’ll usually be asked to lie on your side as the endoscope is carefully pushed down towards your stomach. The endoscope has a light and an ultrasound device on the end. Once it’s been inserted into the body, sound waves are used to create images in the same way as an external ultrasound.
You’ll usually be given a sedative to keep you calm and local anaesthetic spray to numb your throat, as an endoscopic ultrasound scan can be uncomfortable and may make you feel sick. You may also be given a mouth guard to keep your mouth open and protect your teeth, in case you bite the endoscope.
- Medicalnewstoday : ultrasound scan
- American Society of Radiologic Technologists: “Ultrasound.”
- FDA Consumer Health Information: “Taking a Close Look at Ultrasound.”
- RadiologyInfo.org: “General Ultrasound Imaging.