Ultrasound

Ultrasound (also called sonography) utilizes high-frequency sound waves to create images of organs and systems within the body. Ultrasound does not use X-ray or radiation, so it's not harmful to the body. Ultrasound is used to examine the structure of organs and vessels.

What is an abdominal ultrasound?

An abdominal ultrasound is a procedure used to assess the organs and structures within the abdomen (belly). This includes the liver, gallbladder, pancreas, bile ducts, spleen, kidneys, and abdominal aorta. Ultrasound allows your healthcare provider to easily view the abdominal organs and structures from outside the body. Ultrasound may also be used to assess blood flow to abdominal organs.

An abdominal ultrasound uses a handheld probe called a transducer. It sends out ultrasonic sound waves at a frequency too high to be heard. When the transducer is placed on the belly at certain locations and angles, the sound waves move through the skin and other body tissues to the organs and structures of the belly. The sound waves bounce off the organs like an echo and return to the transducer. The transducer picks up the reflected waves. These are then converted into an electronic picture of the organs.

Different types of body tissues affect the speed at which sound waves travel. Sound travels the fastest through bone tissue, and moves most slowly through air. The speed at which the sound waves are returned to the transducer, as well as how much of the sound wave returns, is translated by the transducer as different types of tissue.

Before the procedure, clear, water-based gel is applied to the skin. This allows the transducer to move smoothly over the skin. It also helps remove any air between the skin and the transducer.

An ultrasound can also be used to assess blood flow within the belly. The ultrasound transducer that does this contains a Doppler probe. The Doppler probe evaluates the speed and direction of blood flow in vessels by making the sound waves easy to hear. The degree of loudness of the sound waves indicates the rate of blood flow within a blood vessel. Absence or faintness of these sounds may mean there is a blockage of blood flow.

Why might I need an abdominal ultrasound?

Abdominal ultrasound may be used to assess the size and location of organs and structures in the belly. It can also be used to check the abdomen for conditions such as:

  • Cysts (collections of fluid)
  • Tumors
  • Abscesses (collections of pus)
  • Blockages
  • Fluid build-up
  • Clots in blood vessels
  • Infection

The size of the abdominal aorta can be measured by ultrasound. This may be done to detect an aortic aneurysm. This is a ballooning and weakening of the blood vessel. Stones in the gallbladder, kidneys, and ureters may also be found with ultrasound.

Abdominal ultrasound may be used to guide needles used to biopsy. A biopsy is the removal of a piece of abdominal tissue for testing. Abdominal ultrasound is also used to drain fluid from a cyst or abscess.

This procedure can be used to assess blood flow within the belly.

There may be other reasons for your healthcare provider to recommend an abdominal ultrasound.

What are the risks of an abdominal ultrasound?

There is no radiation used and generally no discomfort caused by moving the ultrasound transducer over the skin. Ultrasound may be safely used during pregnancy or in people with allergies to contrast dye, because no radiation or contrast dyes are used.

There may be risks depending on your specific medical condition. Be sure to discuss any concerns with your healthcare provider before the procedure.

Certain factors or conditions may interfere with the results of the test. These include:

  • Severe obesity
  • Barium within the intestines from a recent barium procedure
  • Intestinal gas

How do I get ready for an abdominal ultrasound?

  • Your healthcare provider will explain the procedure to you and you can ask questions.
  • You may be asked to sign a consent form that gives your permission to do the procedure. Read the form carefully and ask questions if anything is not clear.
  • Any preparation before the test, such as fasting (not eating) or sedation (using drugs to make you sleepy), will be determined by the specific area to be examined. Your healthcare provider will give you instructions if needed.
  • Although the gel applied to the skin during the procedure does not stain clothing, you may want to wear older clothing, as the gel may not be completely removed from your skin afterwards.
  • Based on your medical condition, your healthcare provider may request other specific preparation.

What happens during an abdominal ultrasound?

An abdominal ultrasound may be done on an outpatient basis or as part of your stay in a hospital. Procedures may vary depending on your condition and your healthcare provider's practices.

Generally, an abdominal ultrasound follows this process:

  1. You will be asked to remove any clothing, jewelry, or other objects that may interfere with the scan.
  2. If asked to remove clothing, you will be given a gown to wear.
  3. You will lie on an exam table. You will lie either on your side or on your back, depending on the specific area of the belly to be examined.
  4. A clear, water-based gel will be put on the skin over your belly.
  5. The transducer will be pressed against the skin and moved around over the area being studied.
  6. If blood flow is being assessed, you may hear a "whoosh, whoosh" sound when the Doppler probe is used.
  7. Once the procedure has been completed, the gel will be wiped off.

While the abdominal ultrasound procedure itself causes no pain, having to lie still for the length of the procedure may cause slight discomfort, and the gel may feel cool and wet. The technologist will use all possible comfort measures and complete the procedure as quickly as possible to reduce any discomfort.

What happens after an abdominal ultrasound?

There is no special care needed after an abdominal ultrasound. You may go back to your usual diet and activities unless your healthcare provider tells you differently.

Your healthcare provider may give you other instructions after the procedure, depending on your particular situation.

Next steps

Before you agree to the test or the procedure make sure you know:

  • The name of the test or procedure
  • The reason you are having the test or procedure
  • What results to expect and what they mean
  • The risks and benefits of the test or procedure
  • What the possible side effects or complications are
  • When and where you are to have the test or procedure
  • Who will do the test or procedure and what that person’s qualifications are
  • What would happen if you did not have the test or procedure
  • Any alternative tests or procedures to think about
  • When and how will you get the results
  • Who to call after the test or procedure if you have questions or problems
  • How much will you have to pay for the test or procedure

What is breast ultrasound?

Breast ultrasound is an imaging test that uses sound waves to look at the inside of your breasts. It can help your healthcare provider find breast problems. It also lets your healthcare provider see how well blood is flowing to areas in your breasts. This test is often used when a change has been seen on a mammogram or when a change is felt, but doesn't show up on a mammogram. 

The healthcare provider moves a wand-like device called a transducer over your skin to make the images of your breasts. The transducer sends out sound waves that bounce off your breast tissue. The sound waves are too high-pitched for you to hear. The transducer then picks up the bounced sound waves. These are made into pictures of the inside of your breasts.

Your healthcare provider can add another device called a Doppler probe to the transducer. This probe lets your healthcare provider hear the sound waves the transducer sends out. He or she can hear how fast blood is flowing through a blood vessel and in which direction it's flowing. No sound or a faint sound may mean that you have a blockage in the flow.

Ultrasound is safe to have during pregnancy because it doesn't use radiation. It's also safe for people who are allergic to contrast dye because it doesn't use dye.

Why might I need a breast ultrasound?

A breast ultrasound is most often done to find out if a problem found by a mammogram or physical exam of the breast may be a cyst filled with fluid or a solid tumor. 

Breast ultrasound isn't usually done to screen for breast cancer. This is because it may miss some early signs of cancer. An example of early signs that may not show up on ultrasound are tiny calcium deposits called microcalcifications.

Ultrasound may be used if you:

  • Have particularly dense breast tissue. A mammogram may not be able to see through the tissue.
  • Are pregnant. Mammography uses radiation, but ultrasound does not. This makes it safer for the fetus.
  • Are younger than age 25

Your healthcare provider may also use ultrasound to look at nearby lymph nodes, help guide a needle during a biopsy, or to remove fluid from a cyst.

Your healthcare provider may have other reasons to recommend a breast ultrasound.

What are the risks of a breast ultrasound?

A breast ultrasound has no risk from radiation. It poses no risk to pregnant women.

Breast ultrasound may miss small lumps or solid tumors that are commonly found with mammography. Being overweight or having very large breasts may make the ultrasound less accurate.

You may have risks depending on your specific health condition. Be sure to talk with your healthcare provider about any concerns you have before the procedure.

How do I get ready for a breast ultrasound?

  • Your healthcare provider will explain the procedure to you. Ask any questions you have about the procedure.
  • You may be asked to sign a consent form that gives permission to do the test. Read the form carefully and ask questions if anything is not clear.
  • You don't need to stop eating or drinking before the test. You also will not need medicine to help you relax.
  • You should not put any lotion, powder, or other substances on your breasts on the day of the test.
  • Wear clothing that you can easily take off. Or wear clothing that lets the radiologist  or technologist reach your chest. The gel put on your skin during the test doesn't stain clothing, but you may want to wear older clothing. The gel may not be completely removed from your skin afterward.
  • Follow any other instructions your healthcare provider gives you to get ready.

What happens during a breast ultrasound?

You may have a breast ultrasound as an outpatient or as part of your stay in a hospital. The way the test is done may vary depending on your condition and your healthcare provider’s practices.

Generally, breast ultrasound follows this process:

  1. You will be asked to remove any jewelry and clothing from the waist up. You will be given a gown to wear.
  2. You will lie on your back on an exam table. You will be asked to raise your arm above your head on the side of the breast to be looked at. Or you may be placed on your side.
  3. The technologist will put a clear, warm gel on the skin over the breast area to be looked at.
  4. The technologist will press the transducer against the skin and move it over the area being studied.
  5. Once the test is done, the technologist will wipe off the gel.

What happens after a breast ultrasound?

You don't need any special care after a breast ultrasound. Your healthcare provider may give you other instructions, depending on your situation.

Next steps

Before you agree to the test or the procedure make sure you know:

  • The name of the test or procedure
  • The reason you are having the test or procedure
  • What results to expect and what they mean
  • The risks and benefits of the test or procedure
  • What the possible side effects or complications are
  • When and where you are to have the test or procedure
  • Who will do the test or procedure and what that person’s qualifications are
  • What would  happen if you did not have the test or procedure
  • Any alternative tests or procedures to think about
  • When and how will you get the results
  • Who to call after the test or procedure if you have questions or problems
  • How much will you have to pay for the test or procedure

What is a chest ultrasound?

A chest ultrasound is an imaging test that uses sound waves to look at the structures and organs in your chest. It can help your health care provider see how well your lungs and heart are working.

A chest ultrasound can look at your lungs, heart, esophagus, mid-chest area (mediastinum), space between the lungs and chest wall (pleural space), and other structures in the chest. Your health care provider may also use ultrasound to see how blood flows through the organs in your chest.

The health care provider uses a device called a transducer to make the images of your chest. The transducer sends out sound waves that bounce off your organs and other structures. The sound waves are too high-pitched for you to hear. The transducer then picks up the bounced sound waves. These are made into pictures of your organs.

Your provider can add another device called a Doppler probe to the transducer. This probe lets your provider hear the sound waves the transducer sends out. He or she can hear how fast blood is flowing through a blood vessel and in which direction it is flowing. No sound or a faint sound may mean that you have a blockage in the flow.

Ultrasound is safe to have during pregnancy because it does not use radiation. It is also safe for people who are allergic to contrast dye because it does not use dye.

Why might I need a chest ultrasound?

You may need a chest ultrasound if your health care provider thinks you have extra fluid in your chest. This is especially true if the amount of fluid is small. The ultrasound can tell your provider if the fluid may be caused by:

  • Cancer, an infection, or an inflammation (exudate)
  • Leaking from blood or lymph vessels (transudate)

A chest ultrasound can also be used to:

  • Look at your heart and its valves. When used for this purpose, the test is called an echocardiogram.
  • Guide a needle to take a sample of tissue (biopsy)
  • Guide a needle to remove fluids from the chest (thoracentesis)
  • See how well your diaphragm moves

Chest ultrasound may be used along with other types of imaging tests to diagnose chest conditions. These other tests include CT scans, X-rays, and MRI.

Your provider may have other reasons to recommend a chest ultrasound.

What are the risks of a chest ultrasound?

A chest ultrasound has no risk from radiation. Most people have no discomfort from the transducer moving across the skin.

You may have risks depending on your specific health condition. Be sure to talk with your provider about any concerns you have before the procedure.

Certain things can make a chest ultrasound less accurate. These include:

  • Severe obesity
  • Barium in your esophagus from a recent upper gastrointestinal barium test

How do I get ready for a chest ultrasound?

  • Your health care provider will explain the procedure to you. Ask him or her any questions you have about the procedure.
  • You may be asked to sign a consent form that gives permission to do the test. Read the form carefully and ask questions if anything is not clear.
  • You usually do not need to stop eating or drinking before the test. You also usually will not need medicine to help you relax (sedation).
  • Tell your health care provider if you are pregnant or think you may be pregnant.
  • Wear clothing that you can easily take off. Or wear clothing that lets the radiologist reach your chest. The gel put on your skin during the test does not stain clothing, but you may want to older clothing. The gel may not be completely removed from your skin afterward.
  • Follow any other instructions your provider gives you to get ready.

What happens during a chest ultrasound?

You may have a chest ultrasound as an outpatient or as part of your stay in a hospital. The way the test is done may vary depending on your condition and your health care provider's practices.

Generally, a chest ultrasound follows this process:

  1. You will be asked to remove any clothing, jewelry, or other objects that may get in the way of the scan.
  2. You may be asked to remove clothing. If so, you will be given a gown to wear.
  3. You will lie on the exam table, either on your back or side. Or you will sit with your arms raised and your hands clasped behind your neck. How you are on the table depends on the area that the radiologist needs to look at.
  4. The technologist will put a clear gel on the skin over the area to be looked at.
  5. The technologist will press the transducer against the skin and move it over the area being studied.
  6. You may be asked to shift positions so that the technologist can see other areas. You also may be asked to cough or sniff during the procedure. This will let the technologist see how certain structures in your chest move.
  7. If blood flow is being looked at, you may hear a "whoosh, whoosh" sound when the Doppler probe is used.
  8. Once the test is done, the technologist will wipe off the gel.

A chest ultrasound is not painful. But you may have some discomfort from having to remain still during the test. The gel will also feel cool and wet. The technologist will use all possible comfort measures and do the scan as quickly as possible to minimize any discomfort.

What happens after a chest ultrasound?

You do not need any special care after a chest ultrasound. Your health care provider may give you other instructions, depending on your situation.

Next steps

Before you agree to the test or the procedure make sure you know:

  • The name of the test or procedure
  • The reason you are having the test or procedure
  • What results to expect and what they mean
  • The risks and benefits of the test or procedure
  • What the possible side effects or complications are
  • When and where you are to have the test or procedure
  • Who will do the test or procedure and what that person’s qualifications are
  • What would  happen if you did not have the test or procedure
  • Any alternative tests or procedures to think about
  • When and how will you get the results
  • Who to call after the test or procedure if you have questions or problems
  • How much will you have to pay for the test or procedure

What is fetal ultrasound?

Fetal ultrasound is a test used during pregnancy. It creates an image of the baby in the mother's womb (uterus). It’s a safe way to check the health of an unborn baby. During a fetal ultrasound, the baby’s heart, head, and spine are evaluated, along with other parts of the baby. The test may be done either on the mother’s abdomen (transabdominal) or in the vagina (transvaginal).

There are several types of fetal ultrasound:

  • Standard ultrasound. The test uses sound waves to create two-dimensional images on a computer screen.
  • Doppler ultrasound. This test shows the movement of blood through the umbilical cord, in the baby’s heart, or between the baby and the placenta.
  • 3-D ultrasound. This test shows a lifelike image of an unborn baby.

Ultrasound uses an electronic wand called a transducer to send and receive sound waves. No radiation is used during the procedure. The transducer is moved over the abdomen, and sound waves move through the skin, muscle, bone, and fluids at different speeds. The sound waves bounce off the baby like an echo and return to the transducer. The transducer converts the sound waves into an electronic image on a computer screen.

Why might I need fetal ultrasound?

Fetal ultrasound is a routine part of prenatal care in the U.S. This is because it’s a low risk procedure that gives important information. A routine prenatal ultrasound can check for defects or other problems in the fetus. The following can be examined:

  • Abdomen and stomach
  • Arms, legs, and other body parts
  • Back of the neck
  • Head and brain
  • Heart chambers and valves
  • Kidneys
  • Placenta placement
  • Spine
  • Umbilical cord
  • Urinary bladder

A fetal ultrasound can also show:

  • If a woman is pregnant with multiple babies
  • The gestational age of a baby
  • Where to place the needle during removal of amniotic fluid (amniocentesis)
  • Whether a feus is growing properly

Your healthcare provider may have other reasons to request a fetal ultrasound.

What are the risks of fetal ultrasound?

All procedures have some risks. The risks of this procedure include:

  • Mild discomfort from the transducer on the abdomen or in the vagina
  • Reaction to a latex covering for the transducer, if you have a latex allergy

In some cases, an ultrasound may appear to show a problem that is not there called false-positive. The test can also miss a problem that is there called false-negative. In some cases, additional testing may be needed after a fetal ultrasound.

Fetal ultrasound is sometimes offered in nonmedical settings. This is done as a way to give keepsake images or videos for parents. In these cases, it’s possible for untrained staff to misread the images and give parents incorrect information. Make sure to have fetal ultrasound done by trained medical staff. Talk with your healthcare provider if you have questions.

Your risks may vary depending on your general health and other factors. Ask your healthcare provider which risks apply most to you. Discuss any concerns you may have.

How do I get ready for fetal ultrasound?

Your healthcare provider will explain the procedure to you. Ask any questions you may have. You may be asked to sign a consent form that gives permission to do the procedure. Read the form carefully. Ask questions if anything is not clear.

Tell your healthcare provider if you:

  • Are sensitive to or allergic to any medicines, latex, tape, or anesthetic medicines (local and general)
  • Take any medicines, including prescriptions, over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, and herbal supplements

You may be asked to drink several glasses of water before the procedure. This can help give clearer images.

What happens during a fetal ultrasound?

You may have your procedure as an outpatient. This means you can go home the same day. Or it may be done as part of a longer stay in the hospital. The way the procedure is done may vary. It depends on your condition and your healthcare provider’s methods. In most cases, the procedure will follow this process:

  1. If you are having a transabdominal ultrasound, you will be asked to raise your shirt to expose your abdomen. For a transvaginal ultrasound, you will be asked to remove your clothes from the waist down. You will be given a sheet to place over your legs.  You may be asked to remove jewelry or other objects.
  2. You will lie on an exam table, either on your back or on your side.
  3. For a transabdominal procedure, a clear gel will be placed on the skin of your belly (abdomen). The transducer will be moved over the area and pressed against the skin.
  4. For a transvaginal ultrasound, you will need to lie on your back. Your feet will be in stirrups and your knees apart.
  5. A vaginal transducer probe will be covered with a sterile cover. A lubricant will be put on the probe. The probe will be inserted into the vagina. The technician will move the probe around to capture a series of images. The probe will then be removed.

What happens after fetal ultrasound?

You will be given tissue to wipe off excess gel. You can go home shortly after the test. Your healthcare provider will talk with you about the results. You may get other instructions after the procedure.

Next steps

Before you agree to the test or the procedure make sure you know:

  • The name of the test or procedure
  • The reason you are having the test or procedure
  • What results to expect and what they mean
  • The risks and benefits of the test or procedure
  • What the possible side effects or complications are
  • When and where you are to have the test or procedure
  • Who will do the test or procedure and what that person’s qualifications are
  • What would happen if you did not have the test or procedure
  • Any alternative tests or procedures to think about
  • When and how will you get the results
  • Who to call after the test or procedure if you have questions or problems
  • How much will you have to pay for the test or procedure

 

What is a kidney ultrasound?

A kidney ultrasound is an imaging test that uses sound waves to look at your kidneys. It can check the size, shape, and location of your kidneys. It also lets your healthcare provider see how well blood is flowing in your kidneys.

The healthcare provider uses a device called a transducer to make the images of your kidneys. The transducer sends out sound waves that bounce off your kidneys. The sound waves are too high-pitched for you to hear. The transducer then picks up the bounced sound waves. These are made into pictures of your kidneys.

Your healthcare provider can add another device called a Doppler probe to the transducer. This probe lets your healthcare provider hear the sound waves the transducer sends out. He or she can hear how fast blood is flowing through a blood vessel and in which direction it is flowing. No sound or a faint sound may mean that you have a blockage in the flow.

Ultrasound is safe to have during pregnancy because it does not use radiation. It is also safe for people who are allergic to contrast dye because it does not use dye.

Why might I need a kidney ultrasound?

You may need a kidney ultrasound if your healthcare provider thinks you may have a problem in your kidneys. These problems include:

  • Cyst
  • Tumor
  • Abscess
  • Blockage
  • Collection of fluid
  • Infection
  • Kidney stone

You may also have a kidney ultrasound to help:

  • Put a needle in place to take a tissue sample from the kidneys (biopsy)
  • Drain fluid from a cyst or abscess
  • Put a drainage tube in place
  • See how blood is flowing to the kidneys through the renal arteries and veins

Your provider may also use ultrasound after a kidney transplant to see how well the transplanted kidney is working.

Your healthcare provider may have other reasons to recommend a kidney ultrasound.

What are the risks of a kidney ultrasound?

A kidney ultrasound has no risks of radiation. Most people have no discomfort from the transducer moving across the skin.

You may have risks depending on your specific health condition. Be sure to talk with your healthcare provider about any concerns you have before the procedure.

Certain things can make a kidney ultrasound less accurate. These include:

  • Severe obesity
  • Barium in your intestines from a recent barium test
  • Intestinal gas

How do I get ready for a kidney ultrasound?

  • Your healthcare provider will explain the procedure to you. Ask any questions you have about the procedure.
  • You may be asked to sign a consent form that gives permission to do the test. Read the form carefully and ask questions if anything is not clear.
  • You usually don’t need to stop eating or drinking before the test. You also usually will not need medicine to help you relax (sedation).
  • The gel put on your skin during the test does not stain clothing, but you may want to wear older clothing. The gel may not be completely removed from your skin afterward.
  • You should not empty your bladder before the test if the healthcare provider is going to look at the bladder.
  • Follow any other instructions your healthcare provider gives you to get ready.

What happens during a kidney ultrasound?

You may have a kidney ultrasound as an outpatient or as part of your stay in a hospital. The way the test is done may vary depending on your condition and your healthcare provider's practices.

Generally, a kidney ultrasound follows this process:

  1. You will be asked to remove any jewelry or other objects that may get in the way of the scan.
  2. You may be asked to remove clothing. If so, you will be given a gown to wear.
  3. You will lie on an exam table on your belly and you will be told when to move positions for different kidney views.
  4. The technologist will put a clear gel on the skin over the area to be looked at.
  5. The technologist will press the transducer against the skin and move it over the area being studied.
  6. If blood flow is being looked at, you may hear a "whoosh, whoosh" sound when the Doppler probe is used.
  7. If your bladder is looked at, you will be asked to empty your bladder after scans of the full bladder are done. You will have more scans done of the empty bladder.
  8. Once the test is done, the technologist will wipe off the gel.

A kidney ultrasound is not painful. You may have some discomfort from having to remain still during the test. The gel will also feel cool and wet. The technologist will use all possible comfort measures and do the scan as quickly as possible to minimize any discomfort.

What happens after a kidney ultrasound?

You don’t need any special care after a kidney ultrasound. You may go back to your usual diet and activities unless your healthcare provider tells you otherwise.

Your healthcare provider may give you other instructions, depending on your situation.

Next steps

Before you agree to the test or the procedure make sure you know:

  • The name of the test or procedure
  • The reason you are having the test or procedure
  • What results to expect and what they mean
  • The risks and benefits of the test or procedure
  • What the possible side effects or complications are
  • When and where you are to have the test or procedure
  • Who will do the test or procedure and what that person’s qualifications are
  • What would happen if you did not have the test or procedure
  • Any alternative tests or procedures to think about
  • When and how will you get the results
  • Who to call after the test or procedure if you have questions or problems
  • How much will you have to pay for the test or procedure

What is a pelvic ultrasound?

A pelvic ultrasound is a scan that looks at the organs and structures in your pelvic area. It lets your healthcare provider look at your:

  • Uterus
  • Cervix
  • Vagina
  • Fallopian tubes
  • Ovaries

Your provider can also use Doppler ultrasound to look at how blood is flowing in certain pelvic organs.

Ultrasound uses a device called a transducer to send out sound waves that are too high to be heard. The transducer sends the sound waves through your skin and other body tissues to the organs and structures within. The sound waves bounce off the organs like an echo and return to the transducer. The transducer picks up the reflected waves. These are changed into a picture of the organs.

The ultrasound technologist puts a clear gel on your skin and moves the transducer on the gel. The gel lets the technologist move the transducer smoothly over your skin. It also helps conduct the sound waves.

Pelvic ultrasound may be done in 2 ways:

  • Transabdominal. A transducer is put on your belly using the gel.
  • Transvaginal. A long, thin transducer is covered with a plastic or latex sheath and gel. The transducer is then put into the vagina.

The type of ultrasound procedure you have depends on why you need it. You may need only one type of pelvic ultrasound. Or you may need both to help your healthcare provider make a diagnosis or give you treatment.

Why might I need a pelvic ultrasound?

You may need a pelvic ultrasound so your healthcare provider can measure or look at your pelvic organs. Your provider may use the ultrasound to look at:

  • Size and shape of your uterus and ovaries and where they are
  • Thickness and density of tissues and organs in your pelvis
  • Fluids or masses in the endometrium, muscles of the uterus (myometrium), fallopian tubes, or bladder
  • Length and thickness of your cervix
  • Changes in the shape of your bladder
  • Blood flow through your pelvic organs

Pelvic ultrasound can give your healthcare provider lots of information about the size, place, and structure of pelvic masses. But ultrasound can't give a definite diagnosis of cancer or specific disease.

Your healthcare provider may use pelvic ultrasound to help:

  • Find problems in the structure of the uterus, including endometrial conditions
  • Find fibroid tumors (benign growths), masses, cysts, and other types of tumors within the pelvis
  • Find an IUD (intrauterine contraceptive device)
  • Diagnose pelvic inflammatory disease or other types of inflammation or infection
  • Find the cause of bleeding after menopause
  • Watch your ovaries when you are treated for infertility
  • Collect fluid and eggs from egg sacs (follicles) in the ovaries for in vitro fertilization
  • Diagnose pregnancy that happens outside of the uterus, usually in the fallopian tube (ectopic pregnancy)
  • Watch how your fetus is growing during pregnancy
  • Look at certain fetal conditions

Your healthcare provider may also use ultrasound to help with other procedures such as endometrial biopsy. Transvaginal ultrasound may be used with a procedure called sonohysterography. For this, your uterus is filled with fluid so that your provider can get a better image.

Your provider may have other reasons to recommend a pelvic ultrasound.

What are the risks of a pelvic ultrasound?

Ultrasound doesn't use radiation. You usually won't feel any discomfort when the transducer is moved across your skin during a transabdominal ultrasound. You may have a little discomfort when then transvaginal transducer is put into your vagina.

The transvaginal ultrasound transducer is covered in a plastic or latex sheath. This may cause a reaction if you have a latex allergy.

During a transabdominal ultrasound, you may have discomfort from a full bladder or from lying on the exam table.

If you need to have a transabdominal ultrasound right away, your provider may put a thin tube (urinary catheter) into your bladder to fill it.

You may have other risks depending on your health condition. Be sure to talk with your healthcare provider about any concerns you have before the procedure.

Some things can affect your test results. These include:

  • Severe obesity
  • Barium within your bowel from a recent barium test
  • Intestinal gas
  • Your bladder isn’t full enough for the test (transabdominal ultrasound). A full bladder helps move the uterus up and moves the bowel away to get a better image.

How do I get ready for a pelvic ultrasound?

  • Your healthcare provider will explain the scan to you. Ask any questions you have about the scan.
  • Tell your provider if you are sensitive to or are allergic to latex.
  • You usually can eat and drink as normal before the scan. You will not get medicine to help you relax or go to sleep, unless the ultrasound is part of another procedure that needs anesthesia.
  • Wear clothing that you don’t mind getting gel on. The gel put on your skin during the scan does not stain clothing, but some of it may stay on your skin after the scan.
  • For a transabdominal ultrasound, you will be asked to drink several glasses of water or other liquid 1 to 2 hours before the scan. Don't empty your bladder until the scan is over.
  • For a transvaginal ultrasound, you should empty your bladder right before the scan.
  • Follow any other directions your provider gives you on how to get ready.

What happens during a pelvic ultrasound?

You may have a pelvic ultrasound done in your healthcare provider’s office. Or you may have it as an outpatient or as part of your stay in a hospital. The scan process may vary depending on your condition and your healthcare provider's practices.

Transabdominal ultrasound

  1. You will be asked to remove any clothing, jewelry, or other objects that may get in the way of the scan.
  2. You will be given a gown to wear if you need to remove clothing.
  3. You will lie on your back on an exam table.
  4. The technologist will put gel on your belly (abdomen).
  5. The technologist will press the transducer against your skin and move it over the area being studied.
  6. If the technologist is looking at blood flow, you may hear a "whoosh, whoosh" sound when the Doppler mode is used.
  7. You will see images of your pelvic area on the computer screen. Images will be recorded for your healthcare records.
  8. When the technologist finishes the scan, he or she will wipe off the gel.
  9. You may empty your bladder when the scan is done.

Transvaginal ultrasound

  1. You will be asked to remove any clothing, jewelry, or other objects that may interfere with the scan.
  2. You will be given a gown to wear if you need to remove clothing.
  3. You will lie on an exam table. Your feet and legs will be supported as for a pelvic exam.
  4. The technologist will cover the transvaginal transducer with a plastic or latex sheath and put gel on it. He or she will put the tip of the transducer into your vagina. This may be slightly uncomfortable.
  5. The technologist will gently turn and angle the transducer to bring the areas for study into focus. You may feel mild pressure as the transducer is moved.
  6. If the technologist is looking at your blood flow, you may hear a "whoosh, whoosh" sound when the Doppler probe is used.
  7. You will see images of your pelvic area on the computer screen. Images will be recorded for your health care records.
  8. When technologist finishes the scan, he or she will remove the transducer.

What happens after a pelvic ultrasound?

You don't have to do anything special after a pelvic ultrasound. You may go back to your normal diet and activity unless your healthcare provider tells you not to.

Your healthcare provider may give you additional instructions, depending on your situation.

Next steps

Before you agree to the test or the procedure make sure you know:

  • The name of the test or procedure
  • The reason you are having the test or procedure
  • What results to expect and what they mean
  • The risks and benefits of the test or procedure
  • What the possible side effects or complications are
  • When and where you are to have the test or procedure
  • Who will do the test or procedure and what that person’s qualifications are
  • What would happen if you did not have the test or procedure
  • Any alternative tests or procedures to think about
  • When and how will you get the results
  • Who to call after the test or procedure if you have questions or problems
  • How much will you have to pay for the test or procedure

What is a prostate ultrasound?

Prostate Ultrasound

Healthcare provider performing transrectal ultrasound on male patient.An ultrasound is a type of imaging test. It can be used to look at the prostate. It’s a safe procedure that does not use radiation. It uses high-frequency sound waves.

When ultrasound is used

You may need ultrasound on your prostate if your healthcare provider thinks you may have prostate cancer. An ultrasound is most often done after a digital rectal exam (DRE) or a PSA blood test. These are screening tests for prostate cancer. 

How ultrasound helps

Ultrasound uses sound waves to create an image of the prostate gland. It helps your healthcare provider see if the gland looks abnormal. It can also be used to help guide a biopsy. This is a procedure that removes tiny pieces of tissue to test. A prostate biopsy is done with a needle. Ultrasound helps your healthcare provider see where to put the needle. 

If you have prostate cancer, you may choose to treat it with radioactive “seeds.” Ultrasound can also be used to help your healthcare provider see while placing these seeds into the prostate.

Before the procedure

You may be told to use an enema or suppository the night or morning before. This is to clear your rectum of stool. The test is often done in your healthcare provider’s office. It usually takes less than 15 minutes. 

If a biopsy may be done, you might be asked to stop taking blood-thinning medicines like aspirin for a week or so before the test. This helps lower the risk of bleeding. You might also be given antibiotics before and after the test.

During the procedure

What happens during the procedure:

  • You lie on your side with your knees bent or with your feet in stirrups. 

  • A disposable cover is put on the ultrasound probe. The probe is tube-shaped and a bit larger than a thumb. A jelly is put on the probe to lubricate it.

  • Your healthcare provider gently inserts the probe into your rectum. This may cause some discomfort.

  • The probe emits sound waves. These create an image of your prostate on a computer screen. Your healthcare provider looks at the image. The size and shape of your prostate are checked for problems.

  • When the test is done, the probe is removed.

  • You can go home the same day, and go back to your normal activities.