Ultrasound or ultrasonography, sometimes referred to as sonography, creates images of blood vessels, tissues, and organs using high-frequency sound waves and a computer. This technology looks at the body’s internal organs, and is used to evaluate the flow of blood through different blood vessels. Ultrasound is used to examine many different areas of the body, including breasts, the abdomen, thyroid and parathyroid glands, female pelvis, scrotum, and vascular system. Ultrasound exams are also used to monitor fetal development during pregnancy.

There are many types of ultrasound exams, the most common of which are:

  • Doppler ultrasound: Looks at the body’s interior structures while simultaneously evaluating the flow of blood. This exam can identify problems inside veins and arteries.
  • Vascular ultrasound: Examines the vascular system and detects blood clots and narrowed arteries.
  • Abdominal ultrasound: Detects abnormalities, such as stones or tumors, in the kidneys, liver, pancreas, and gallbladder.
  • Retroperitoneal ultrasound (kidneys, bladder): Studies the kidneys and urinary tract.
  • Obstetrical ultrasound: Monitors fetal development.
  • Pelvic ultrasound: Attempts to locate reasons for pelvic pain, such as ectopic pregnancy, and detects tumors and masses.
  • Breast ultrasound: Examines palpable masses in breast tissue or characterizes masses seen on a mammogram.
  • Thyroid ultrasound: Looks for anything suspicious or abnormal in the thyroid gland.
  • Scrotal ultrasound: Attempts to locate reasons for testicular pain, swelling, lumps, etc.
  • Carotid: Shows where blood flow is restricted on its way to the brain or kidneys.
  • Musculoskeletal ultrasound: Examines pain in joints or muscles and looks for problems such as torn tissue, abnormal fluid collection, or masses.
  • Interventional ultrasound: Helps radiologists see precisely what they are doing while performing procedures or biopsies.
  • Renal artery stenosis ultrasound: Detects narrowing in the arteries supplying blood to the kidneys.

What To Expect

Most procedures follow the same general process. A technologist will apply a gel onto the area of your body that will be examined to help conduct the sound waves and produce a better image. Ultrasound waves are transmitted through your body using a transducer.

The sound waves from the transducer are reflected off structures inside your body. The information gathered from these sounds is analyzed by a computer which creates a picture of your internal structures and displays them on a TV screen.

Patient Preparation

Patient preparation varies depending on which ultrasound exam is being performed:

  • Abdominal ultrasound: Nothing to eat or drink after midnight.
  • Obstetrical ultrasound/Retroperitoneal ultrasound (kidneys, bladder):  You will be asked to drink 24 oz. of water 30 minutes before exam time and to hold your bladder until the exam is complete.
  • Pelvic ultrasound: You will be asked to drink 36 oz. of water 30 minutes before exam time and to hold your bladder until the exam is complete.
  • Breast ultrasound: Wear a two-piece outfit. No other preparation is needed.
  • Renal artery stenosis ultrasound & Superior Mesenteric Artery: You will be given anti-gas pills to take the evening before and the morning of your exam. You will be asked to drink 24 oz. of water 30 minutes before exam time, and you can empty your bladder as needed.
  • Interventional ultrasound: Preparation will depend on the procedure being performed and will be explained to you when your exam is scheduled.