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 health care team is prepared to answer any questions you have before, during and after your exam.
- Ultrasounds and sonograms use high frequency sound waves to create images.
- When a sound wave strikes an object, it bounces back—or echoes—and produces precise images of organs and structures inside the body.
- No radiation is used during an ultrasound, making it an extremely safe way to get precise images of internal organs.
- Depending on the area of the body being examined, the test can take 20 to 120 minutes to complete.
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 device, called a transducer.
A clear, water-based gel is applied to the area of the body being studied, which helps the transducer securely contact the body. Pressing the transducer firmly against the skin, the sonographer will move the transducer in sweeping motions to see an area of interest.
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 do physicians use ultrasound images to examine?
Most people think of pregnancy and viewing a developing fetus when they hear the word ultrasound. However, physicians also use ultrasound images to examine other areas of the body.
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 does not 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.
Ultrasound may be used to examine the following:
- The heart, blood vessels, liver, gallbladder and other organs.
- Blood flow in vessels
- Cancer, including ultrasound-guided biopsies and checking the 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
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. The gel helps 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 and angles the sound beam to better see an area of interest.
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.
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.
Are there risks?
For standard diagnostic ultrasound there are no documented harmful effects on humans.
How will I find out the results?
A specially trained imaging physician, called a radiologist, will analyze the images. The radiologist will 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.
What will I see on an obstetrical ultrasound?
You will be able to see a screen during your exam. The ultrasound tech, sonographer or radiologist will explain what you are seeing. Your exam will be in real time, but the images you receive will be a hard copy. What you see on a sonogram depends on how far along you are in your pregnancy. When it is performed early for viability or dating, you can see a yolk sac and embryo. If you are 6 weeks or greater, you can typically see the fetal heart beating. Between 18 and 20 weeks, you can see the majority of the baby’s anatomy, and it is possible to see the gender of the baby.
Occasionally it is necessary to use color Doppler to evaluate the blood flow through the placenta or cord. It may also be used to evaluate the fetal heart.