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Ultrasound imaging or scanning uses high-frequency sound waves to produce a picture of the inside of a body part. Physicians use ultrasound or sonography to diagnose lumps and abnormalities. This imaging technique is most widely known for its use in examining babies in the womb, but physicians also use ultrasound to gather information about potential disease in many parts of the body or to guide a biopsy. Baystate breast health experts use ultrasound to diagnose breast lumps and other abnormalities. We also offer women's ultrasound studies of the abdomen, kidneys, thyroid, extremities, carotid artery, and pelvis.
How Ultrasound Works
Ultrasound works like sonar. A sound wave strikes an object and echoes or bounces back. Measuring these echo waves enables the ultrasound machine to create a picture of the object's size, shape, and consistency.
A Doppler ultrasound study may be part of an ultrasound exam. The Doppler technique can evaluate blood velocity as it flows through a blood vessel, including the body's major arteries and veins in the abdomen, arms, legs and neck.
Why Physicians Use Ultrasound
Few other exams are as quick, inexpensive, painless, and medically revealing as ultrasound. This noninvasive scanning exam gives a clear picture of soft tissues that do not show up well on x-rays. The exam provides real-time imaging, making it a good tool for guiding minimally invasive procedures like biopsies and aspirations. Your physician may use ultrasound to guide procedures like as breast needle biopsies -- a procedure in which a needle extracts sample cells from an abnormal area for testing.
Preparing for Your Ultrasound Exam
On the day of your exam:
- Please wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothes. To get a detailed picture, the machine needs a clear view of your skin.
- During a portion of the exam, you will need to remove the clothing on the part of your body that is being examined.
- You may be asked to wear a cloth robe that we provide.
What to Expect during the Exam
For most exams, you will lie on your back on an exam table that can tilt and move. The technologist applies a clear water-based gel to the area of your body being studied. The gel helps the machine's transducer make secure contact with your body. It also eliminates air pockets. The ultrasound technologist presses the transducer firmly against your skin and sweeps it over the study area. You will feel some pressure. You can expect an ultrasound exam to take from 30 minutes to an hour. After the exam, the technologist will provide you with a towel to wipe away the gel.
Benefits & Risks
Standard diagnostic ultrasound has no known harmful effects. And the benefits are many. In the vast majority of cases, ultrasound:
- Causes no health problems.
- Is noninvasive (no needles or injections).
- Does not expose you to any radiation.
- Gives a clear picture of soft tissues that do not show up well on x-rays.
- Is widely available, easy-to-use and less expensive than other imaging methods.
- May be repeated as often as necessary.
- Is the preferred imaging modality for the diagnosis and monitoring of pregnant women .
- Provides real-time imaging, making it a good tool for guiding minimally invasive procedures such as needle biopsies and needle aspiration.
When an ultrasound exam cannot tell if an organ or body part is healthy or not, your physician may want to perform another type of exam or procedure. Large patients are more difficult to image with ultrasound. Their tissue weakens the sound waves as they pass deeper into the body. In such case, a different type of imaging exam may be necessary.