Ultrasounds are offered at advanced imaging centers and hospitals throughout the Sentara Healthcare system. An ultrasound technologist/sonographer will perform your exam, which will later be interpreted by a radiologist. Your Sentara health care team is prepared to answer any questions you have before, during and after your exam.
What is an ultrasound/sonogram?
Ultrasound imaging is based on the same principles involved in the sonar used by bats, ships and fishermen. It uses high frequency sound waves higher than a human ear can detect emitted by a hand-held transducer.
When a sound wave strikes an object, it bounces back, or echoes and produces precise images of organs and structures inside the body. By measuring these echo waves it is possible to determine size, shape, and consistency of an object (whether the object is solid, filled with fluid, or both).
A Doppler ultrasound study may be part of an ultrasound examination. Doppler ultrasound is a special ultrasound technique that evaluates blood flow through a blood vessel, including the body's major arteries and veins in the abdomen, arms, legs and neck.
No radiation is used during an ultrasound, making it an extremely safe way of getting precise images of internal organs.
What can an ultrasound/sonogram tell my doctor?Most associate ultrasound images with pregnancy and viewing a developing fetus, but there are many other uses for ultrasound technology in all areas of medicine.
Physicians also use ultrasound images to examine:
The heart, blood vessels, liver, gallbladder and other organs.
Blood flow in vessels.
Cancer and check the biopsy and treatment of a tumor.
Infection, swelling or pain.
Abnormalities in the scrotum and prostate.
The abdominal aorta and its major branches.
The uterus and ovaries.
The brain and hips in infants
Ultrasounds can also be used to guide procedures such as needle biopsies, in which needles are used to extract sample cells from an abnormal area for laboratory testing.
Because sound doesn't travel well through air or bone, ultrasound isn't used to study bones or parts of the body that have gas inside, such as the bowels or organs obscured by the bowel.
How do I prepare for my exam?
When you schedule your ultrasound, you will get detailed instructions on how to prepare. Specific preparation for an ultrasound depends on the part of your body being examined.
Sometimes, no special preparations will be needed, other than to wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothing on the day of the exam.
How is the test performed?
For most ultrasound exams, the patient is positioned lying face-up on an examination table that can be tilted or moved.
A clear, warm water-based gel is applied to the area of the body being studied to help the transducer make secure contact with the body and eliminate air pockets between the transducer and the skin. The sonographer, ultrasound technologist or radiologist then presses the transducer firmly against the skin in various locations, sweeping over the area of interest or angling the sound beam from a farther location to better see an area of concern.
Ultrasounds are usually painless, but you may feel some discomfort as the transducer is pressed on your body, especially if you are required to have a full bladder for the exam or if an area of your body is tender.
The technologist may ask you to hold your breath for several seconds at a time or to change your position on the table. If you are having an ultrasound of your kidney, you may need to lie on your stomach for part of the exam.
Depending on the area of the body being examined, the test can take 20 to 60 minutes to complete.
Doppler sonography is performed using the same transducer.
When the examination is complete, the patient may be asked to dress and wait while the ultrasound images are reviewed.
In some ultrasound studies, the transducer is attached to a probe and inserted into a natural opening in the body. These exams include:
Transesophageal echocardiogram – The transducer is inserted into the esophagus to obtain images of the heart.
Transrectal ultrasound – The transducer is inserted into a man's rectum to view the prostate.
Transvaginal ultrasound – The transducer is inserted into a woman's vagina to view the uterus and ovaries.
Are there risks?
For standard diagnostic ultrasound there are no documented harmful effects on humans.
How will I find out the results?
A radiologist, a physician specifically trained to supervise and interpret radiology examinations, will analyze the images and send a signed report to the physician who referred you for the exam, who will share the results with you. In some cases the radiologist may discuss results with you at the conclusion of your examination.