We offer ultrasounds at our imaging locations with a provider’s referral.
What Is an Ultrasound?
An ultrasound, also called a sonogram, is a real-time diagnostic exam that uses high-frequency sound waves to produce images of the tissues inside your body. Humans cannot detect sound waves with such a high frequency, hence the name ultrasound.
In addition to their diagnostic uses, medical providers frequently use ultrasounds for certain treatment procedures and visual guidance during biopsies. Most ultrasounds are performed with devices located outside the body, but in some cases, devices must be inserted into the body to produce accurate images.
What Does an Ultrasound Show?
Ultrasounds have several purposes because they can display a wide variety of internal structures in real-time. Using different types of ultrasounds, medical providers can view various organs, tissues, and vessels, including:
- Female reproductive organs
- Male reproductive organs
- Developing babies in pregnant patients
- Breast lumps
- Heart, arteries, veins, and blood flow
- Thyroid and parathyroid glands
- Prostate gland
- Joints and joint inflammation
- Tumors (a biopsy is necessary to determine whether a tumor is cancerous)
- Bones and bone density
- Brain, spine, and hips in infant patients
What Is a Pelvic/Transvaginal Ultrasound and What Is It Used to Diagnose?
A pelvic/transvaginal ultrasound is an imaging procedure that displays a woman’s reproductive organs. When you visit your doctor’s office for this type of ultrasound, a sonographer will cover an ultrasound probe with a condom and lubricant gel. When both you and the probe are ready, your provider will insert the device into your vaginal canal. He or she will then gently move the probe inside your vagina to view your pelvic organs.
Your doctor may request a transvaginal ultrasound to screen for or diagnose:
- Abnormal menstrual or vaginal bleeding
- Pelvic pain
- Infertility issues
- Abnormal physical exam findings, including fibroids, cysts, or other concerning growths
- Ectopic pregnancy
- Proper IUD placement
- Cervical changes during pregnancy that may cause delivery complications or miscarriage
- Problems with the placenta during pregnancy
If necessary, your physician may perform a special type of pelvic ultrasound called saline infusion sonography (SNS). For this procedure, your provider will insert a saline solution into your uterus before starting the ultrasound. The solution stretches the uterine walls slightly, which helps create a more detailed image.
What Is an Abdominal Ultrasound and What Is It Used to Diagnose?
An abdominal ultrasound is a non-invasive procedure that creates images of the organs and structures inside the abdomen. Your provider may use this type of ultrasound to view your abdominal aorta, pancreas, spleen, gallbladder, liver, bile ducts, and intestines.
To perform this procedure, an ultrasound technician will put lubricant gel on your abdomen. He or she will then place the ultrasound transducer on the area and move it around to view the internal tissues in your abdominal cavity.
Your doctor may order an abdominal ultrasound to look for:
- Abdominal aortic aneurysm
- Kidney stones
- Liver disease
- Irregular blood flow
- Organ enlargement
- Narrowing of blood vessels
- Vascular malformations
- The source of unexplained abdominal pain
What Is a Soft Tissue Ultrasound and What Is It Used to Diagnose?
A soft tissue ultrasound produces images of muscles, fascia, skin, and other subcutaneous soft tissues. A sonographer begins this ultrasound by placing a warmed gel on your skin in the area to be examined. He or she will then place the ultrasound transducer on the area and move it around to view your internal tissues.
Your doctor may request a soft tissue ultrasound to look for:
- Joint and bursae inflammation
- Ligament tears or strains
- Tendonitis or tendon tears
- Muscle tears, fluid collection, or masses within muscle tissues
- Joint dislocations
- Soft tissue masses, including benign and cancerous tumors
- Ganglion cysts
- Nerve entrapments
- Foreign objects embedded in soft tissues (glass, nails, splinters, etc.)
What Is a Testicular Ultrasound and What Is It Used to Diagnose?
A testicular ultrasound is an imaging procedure that displays the male reproductive organs. This type of sonogram also helps diagnose health conditions that may affect a male’s reproductive system.
To perform this exam, a sonographer will apply wide strips of tape to your scrotal area. The tape elevates your scrotal sac slightly and places your testicles in a side-by-side position. Your provider will then move the ultrasound device on top of your scrotum to view the structures inside.
Your doctor may order a testicular ultrasound to screen for or diagnose:
- Lumps or masses in one or both testicles
- Unexplained pain in your testicles
- Testicular enlargement
- Abnormal blood flow through the testicles
- Testicular torsion (a twisted testicle)
What Is a Vascular Sonogram and What Is It Used to Diagnose?
A vascular sonogram is a noninvasive exam that evaluates blood flow through various areas of the body. Your provider may order a vascular sonogram to:
- Monitor blood flow to your organs and tissues
- Locate, identify, and plan treatment for plaque, detached clots, or blockages
- Assess varicose veins
- Identify enlarged arteries
- Reveal blood clots in your arms and legs
- Determine your candidacy for certain procedures (such as angioplasty)
- Follow up after procedures that bypass or graft blood vessels
- Assist with catheter or needle placement into children’s veins or arteries
What Is a Thyroid Ultrasound and What Is It Used to Diagnose?
A thyroid ultrasound creates images of the thyroid gland, parathyroid gland, and other nearby tissues in the neck. By moving the ultrasound device back and forth over your neck area, your provider can view areas of concern within and around your thyroid.
Thyroid ultrasounds are commonly used to:
- Assess the appearance of thyroid nodules
- Determine if thyroid nodules are benign or require a biopsy
- Guide needle aspiration during a thyroid biopsy
- Determine where lumps in the neck originate
- Assess long-term thyroid nodule growth
How Is Each of These Tests Performed?
Most ultrasounds require you to lie face-up on an adjustable exam table. For certain types of ultrasounds, you may need to wear a gown or lie on one side of your body to help your provider capture quality images.
After you position yourself on the exam table, your provider will apply a water-based gel to the area of your body where the ultrasound will occur. The gel helps eliminate air pockets between the ultrasound transducer and your skin. Those air pockets can interfere with the machine’s ability to generate images. The gel also helps the transducer move smoothly and comfortably throughout the exam area.
After applying the gel, your provider will gently press the ultrasound transducer onto your skin. During the sonogram, the transducer generates sound waves that travel into your body and bounce off your internal organs, tissues, and fluids.
The ultrasound machine records tiny changes in the pitch and direction of the sound and sends that data to a computer. The computer analyzes the data, converts it to a real-time image, and displays the image on a computer screen. Your doctor may request photos or videos of the ultrasound images for your permanent medical records.
Ultrasound procedures are not painful, but you may feel a slight pressure in the exam area, depending on the type of ultrasound you’re getting. When the procedure is complete, your provider will wipe the gel off your skin and allow you private time to dress, if necessary.
Are Ultrasounds Safe?
Yes, ultrasounds are very safe. Sonogram technology relies on sound waves to generate images, so it doesn’t expose patients to any harmful radiation as many other imaging procedures do. Ultrasounds are safe even for pregnant women and developing babies.
How to Prepare for an Ultrasound?
Most ultrasounds do not require any special preparation. However, for certain types of ultrasounds, your doctor may ask you to avoid eating or drinking for several hours before your procedure.
For abdominal ultrasounds, your doctor will likely ask you to avoid eating or drinking for at least four to eight hours before your appointment. You may still take your normal medications with a small sip of water.
For pelvic and bladder ultrasounds, your doctor may ask you to drink about 32 ounces of water one hour before your exam. If this is required, you must avoid emptying your bladder until the ultrasound is over.
For prostate ultrasounds, your doctor may give you a special type of enema and ask you to perform a colon cleanse a couple of hours before your exam.
If your provider orders an ultrasound, they’ll let you know if any special preparation is required and give you pre-procedure instructions. If your doctor gives you authorization for your scheduled procedure, be sure to bring it with you to your appointment.
How Long Does an Ultrasound Take?
Most ultrasounds require about 30 minutes to complete. However, the total length of your appointment may be considerably longer. It’s a good idea to set aside approximately 90 minutes for your entire visit.
What Happens Once My Results Are Ready?
After your ultrasound, a trained physician will interpret the images from your exam. He or she will then send a signed and detailed report to the doctor who ordered the ultrasound. Your physician will contact you to discuss your results and any treatments you may need.
If necessary, your doctor may schedule a follow-up appointment for further evaluation if the exam reveals areas of concern. You may need to get additional imaging exams or schedule future sonograms to monitor changes or determine if your prescribed treatments are working.
At Healthcare Associates of Texas, our highly skilled ultrasound teams are committed to delivering superior care for you and your family. To learn more about our ultrasound services or see a physician regarding a health concern, feel free to schedule an appointment online or reach out to your local clinic by phone.