Ultrasound, also called sonography or diagnostic medical sonography, is a noninvasive imaging test that uses sound waves to create a picture (also known as a sonogram) of organs, tissues, and other structures inside the body. There are no known risks to ultrasound and it does not expose you to radiation. Most ultrasound examinations are done using an ultrasound device outside your body, though some involve placing a device inside your body.

When Is Ultrasound Used?

There are four main categories of medical ultrasound: cardiovascular, obstetrical (pregnancy), general diagnostic, and musculoskeletal.

Obstetrical ultrasound is used to look at an unborn baby. The test can provide information about a baby’s growth, development, and overall health.

General Diagnostic ultrasound is used to view and provide information about other internal parts of the body. These include the, liver, bladder, kidneys, and female reproductive organs.

Cardiovascular ultrasound is used to view and provide diagnostic information for the heart and blood vessels.

Musculoskeletal ultrasound is used to provide diagnostic information about muscle tissue, tendons, and ligaments.

Ultrasound can also be used to help guide a physician performing therapeutic procedures such as draining fluid from the abdomen or lungs.

Your doctor may also use an ultrasound to:

  • Evaluate symptoms like pain, swelling and infection
  • Diagnose breast cancer
  • Diagnose heart and vascular conditions using an echocardiogram
  • Evaluate blood flow using a Doppler ultrasound
  • Guide a surgeon during minimally invasive procedures, including biopsies

What to Expect at an Ultrasound

When you come to Pardee Outpatient Radiology for an ultrasound, wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothes. You may be asked to change into a hospital gown or remove jewelry.

Depending on your exam, your doctor may ask you to avoid food or fluids before the test, or to drink a lot of water so you have a full bladder during the test. Follow instructions from your healthcare provider for the most accurate results.

Ultrasound exams don’t hurt, and they usually take 30 minutes to an hour. For most exams, you will recline on an examination table for the procedure. A radiologist or sonographer will apply a warm gel to the area of the body being studied, and then glide a wand-like device called a transducer over your skin to capture black and white images called sonograms.

In some ultrasound tests, the transducer is attached to a probe to better examine internal organs like the heart (transesophageal echocardiogram), the digestive tract (endoscopic ultrasound), the prostate (transrectal ultrasound) or the uterus and ovaries (transvaginal ultrasound).

You may be able to view the images as they are being made. This often happens during a pregnancy ultrasound, allowing you to look at your unborn baby.

Your Ultrasound Results

A radiologist will interpret your sonogram and give a report to your doctor. Your physician will share the ultrasound results with you and discuss any follow-up care.