What are some common uses of the procedure?
Ultrasound examinations can help to diagnose a variety of conditions and to assess organ damage following illness.
Ultrasound is used to help physicians evaluate symptoms such as:
Ultrasound is a useful way of examining many of the body’s internal organs, including but not limited to the:
- heart and blood vessels, including the abdominal aorta and its major branches
- uterus, ovaries, and unborn child (fetus) in pregnant patients
- thyroid and parathyroid glands
- scrotum (testicles)
- brain in infants
- hips in infants
- spine in infants
Ultrasound is also used to:
- guide procedures such as needle biopsies, in which needles are used to sample cells from an abnormal area for laboratory testing.
- image the breasts and guide biopsy of breast cancer.
- diagnose a variety of heart conditions, including valve problems and congestive heart failure, and to assess damage after a heart attack. Ultrasound of the heart is commonly called an “echocardiogram” or “echo” for short.
Doppler ultrasound images can help the physician to see and evaluate:
- blockages to blood flow (such as clots)
- narrowing of vessels
- tumors and congenital vascular malformations
- reduced or absent blood flow to various organs
- greater than normal blood flow to different areas, which is sometimes seen in infections
With knowledge about the speed and volume of blood flow gained from a Doppler ultrasound image, the physician can often determine whether a patient is a good candidate for a procedure like angioplasty.
How ultrasound scans work
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.
Preparing for an ultrasound scan
Before having some types of ultrasound scan, 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, you may ask you to remove some clothing and wear a procedure 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.