How Does Ultrasound Work?

Ultrasound, also known as sonography, is an imaging modality that uses sound waves to visualize internal body structures, such as tendons, joints, muscles, blood vessels and internal organs. A device called a transducer is used during ultrasound to emit sound waves, which travel through the body and produces echoes as the bound off of internal body structures. These echoes are tracked by the transducer and translated into visual reproductions of body parts. Ultrasound, because it uses sound waves, does not expose patients to radiation and can be repeated often without concern.

As sound waves travel through the body, they pass through some tissues and not through others. Denser tissues, like solid tumors, will appear lighter on ultrasound images than less dense tissues, like a fluid-filled cyst, which will appear darker.

Why is Ultrasound Performed?

There are a wide range of uses for ultrasound. It can be used to investigate the causes of symptoms like swelling, pain and infection. Different kinds of ultrasound include:

  • Fetal ultrasound is used to track and monitor pregnancy.
  • Echocardiogram is used to assess heart problems.
  • Doppler ultrasound is used to evaluate blood flow through blood vessels.
  • Ultrasound-guided biopsies uses ultrasound to guide biopsy needles during the extraction os tissue for testing.

Ultrasound is safe to perform in many areas of the body and can be used to image the:

  • Spleen
  • Liver
  • Pancreas
  • Gallbladder
  • Bladder
  • Kidneys
  • Testicles
  • Uterus
  • Eyes

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What to Expect During an Ultrasound

For most ultrasound exams, you will be positioned on an exam table and a gel will be applied over the area of the body being studied. Depending on the area of your body being examined, you may be asked to change into a medical gown prior to your exam. Once ready, the transducer will be moved over area being studied until desired image the desired images have been produced. The transducer on your body may cause you to experience some pressure, but ultrasound exams are generally painless.

Certain types of ultrasound require the transducer to be inserted into a body opening, which can cause minimal discomfort. These types of ultrasound include:

  • Transrectal ultrasound.
  • Transvaginal ultrasound.
  • Transesopageal ultrasound.
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