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An ultrasound, also called sonography, is a noninvasive imaging exam that uses high-frequency sound waves to produce images of the inside of the body. While ultrasound exams are perhaps most well known for their use during pregnancy, they can also help doctors diagnose lumps and abnormalities throughout the body and guide biopsies and aspirations.
Our radiologists use high-resolution, state-of-the-art ultrasound equipment to provide outstanding detail in a compassionate, caring environment. We have radiologists on staff who subspecialize in reading ultrasounds, providing you with even more accuracy and expertise.
We offer ultrasound studies of the:
How an ultrasound works
During an ultrasound, a machine sends a sound wave that hits an object in the body, and then bounces back. As the ultrasound machine measures the sound waves, it creates images of the size, shape and consistency of the object.
Depending on your situation, your radiologist may use a Doppler ultrasound study, which can evaluate blood flow through your blood vessels in the abdomen, arms, legs, and neck.
Why you may need an ultrasound
Your physician may order an ultrasound if you have pain, swelling, or infection in your:
- Blood vessels
He or she may also recommend an ultrasound to:
Ultrasounds can help diagnose conditions including:
- Abdominal pain or distention
- Abnormal liver function
- Aortic aneurysm
- Blood vessel blockage or narrowing
- Enlarged abdominal organ
- Gallbladder or kidney stones
- Organ damage
Benefits of an ultrasound exam
Ultrasound exams cause no known side effects. The benefits of an ultrasound include:
- Does not expose you to any radiation
- Is noninvasive and does not require needles or incisions
- Is painless
- Provides a clear image of soft tissue that doesn't show up well on X-rays
- Is less expensive than other imaging methods
- Can be performed as often as needed with no side effects
- Is easily available at many imaging centers
- Is safe for pregnant women and unborn babies
- Provides real-time imaging, which is helpful for guiding needle biopsies and aspirations
Limits of an ultrasound exam
Ultrasounds have a few limits:
- Ultrasound waves can be disrupted by gas or air, so it is not ideal for imaging bowel issues or organs hidden by the bowel.
- It can be difficult to get an accurate image in patients who are overweight or obese. Their tissue weakens the sound waves as they must pass deeper into the body.
- Ultrasound cannot penetrate bone, so it can only provide images of the outside of a bony structure.
How to prepare for an ultrasound exam
Your doctor or nurse will give you specific instructions on how to prepare for your ultrasound exam. In general, you can expect to:
- Wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothing to the exam
- Remove clothing covering the body part being examined
What to expect during an ultrasound
You will be asked to lie on your back on an exam table. Your technologist will apply a clear, water-based gel to the body part that will be studied, such as your abdomen. The gel helps the machine make contact with your body and eliminates air pockets.
The technologist will then sweep a transducer across the area being studied. The exam should be painless and last approximately 30 minutes to an hour.
For some procedures, like a transesophageal echocardiogram, your technologist will attach the transducer to a probe to examine inside your body through a natural opening, such as your mouth. Your doctor will let you know before the exam if you need this type of ultrasound.
Your doctor or nurse will tell you what you need to do to prepare for your ultrasound procedure. Ask your health care provider if you have any questions leading up to your procedure. (You do not need to prepare for the following ultrasound procedures: renal, testicular, transanal, head, hip, spine, chest, thyroid, soft tissue, leg, and arm.)