A diagnostic medical ultrasound is a sound wave that creates an image of internal organs, vessels and tissues in the body. Also referred to as sonography, ultrasound imaging utilizes a transducer to both transmit high-frequency sound waves into the area of the body being examined and record the waves that echo back, creating an image on the monitor. Since ultrasound imaging is radiation-free, it serves as a safe, painless form of scanning for women who are pregnant.
The Uses of an Ultrasound
An ultrasound can be performed for a variety of reasons. The most commonly known use of an ultrasound scan is to examine a woman’s uterus and ovaries during pregnancy and monitor the baby’s health in the womb. Physicians can also use ultrasounds to diagnose a variety of conditions and diseases in the heart, gallbladder, liver, spleen, pancreas, kidneys, bladder, thyroid, breasts, etc. At a majority of ultrasound appointments, a transducer is placed on the outside of the body. However, in some cases, a better image is needed, and the ultrasound technician will insert a special transducer into the esophagus, vagina or rectum.
What to Expect at Your Ultrasound
Before your ultrasound begins, you may be asked to change into a gown or remove any jewelry from the area being examined. You will lie down on the examination table. Then, the ultrasound tech will apply gel to your skin where you are being examined. The ultrasound gel helps reduce the air between you and the transducer to help create a clearer, sharper image. After the gel has been applied, the sonographer will press the transducer to the area and move it as needed to capture an accurate image.
A standard ultrasound exam typically takes approximately 30 minutes to an hour. The results will be sent to your referring physician within 24 hours of your appointment.
How to Prepare for Your Appointment
On the day of your appointment, wear comfortable clothing. Depending on the type of ultrasound, you may be asked to drink plenty of water that day and refrain from urinating until after your appointment. Water can help produce clearer images, as sound waves travel more easily through fluid. Alternatively, you might be instructed to refrain from eating or drinking prior to your exam. This is standard with gallbladder ultrasounds.