Ultrasound is a non-invasive scan used to monitor and diagnose conditions in many parts of the body.
An ultrasound scan uses high frequency sound waves to produce images of the interior of
the human body – the same technology as the sonar used by ships. These images are displayed on a monitor and can then be stored electronically.
During your scan, a probe is passed over an area of your body. The sound waves bounce off internal organs and are passed back through a microphone to a computer. The computer turns these sound waves into highly detailed images in real time, shown on the monitor.
What is ultrasound used for?
Ultrasound is ideal for looking at anything not blocked by bone or buried deep within your body. It's not just a pregnancy scan – it's used in a range of women's and men's health checks, as well as general health investigations. So as well as getting a first glimpse of unborn babies, it can be used to:
- scan breast tissue to help investigate lumps or other abnormalities
- look for gynaecological symptoms such as polyps, cysts and fibroids
- look inside your stomach in conjuction with endoscopy
- diagnose musculoskeletal conditions and injuries by scanning muscles, joints, tendons and ligaments
- diagnose and find the source of varicose veins
- look at major organs like the liver, kidneys and heart
- guide doctors in making injections for joint pain and surgeons taking biopsies.
To do all of this, an array of different shaped probes are used – each designed to look at specific areas of the body.
Preparing for an ultrasound scan
You may be asked to remove some of your clothing and put on a hospital gown. For some scans, you may be asked not to eat or drink before the procedure.
If you're having your uterus or bladder scanned, you may be asked to attend the appointment with a full bladder. This acts as an ultrasound window and allows better visualisation of the pelvic organs. Don’t worry, there'll be a toilet nearby so you can empty your bladder immediately after these scans.
What happens during ultrasound scanning?
An ultrasound scan is painless, but depending on the type of ultrasound, there may be some slight discomfort. The procedure can take between 15 and 30 minutes.
A consultant radiologist will perform the scan and a healthcare assistant will be in the room to support you and the consultant.
There are 3 main types of ultrasound scan:
- External – the probe is moved across the skin, such as with a pregnancy (obstetric) scan, abdominal scan or pelvic scan
- Internal – the probe is inserted into the body, such as with a transvaginal scan
- Endoscopic – a small probe is attached to the end of a endoscope, which is passed through the mouth, down the oesophagus and into the stomach.
For an external ultrasound, a clear, cool gel is spread on the area to be scanned. The gel helps to transmit the sound waves, while providing lubrication. The probe is pressed onto your skin and moved back and forth over the area being scanned. You may be asked to take deep breaths or to move into different positions to get different images.
The scan will appear on the monitor, and although ultrasound images can be difficult to read and interpret, you are welcome to look at the them during the scan.
If you have any questions or concerns about your particular scan or the preparation, be sure to call us using the number on your appointment letter.
Are ultrasound scans dangerous?
When will I find out the results?
For some types of scans, our staff will be able to explain the images and results to you during or just after the scan. In other cases, a detailed analysis may be needed.
Our radiologist will review the images and send a report on the findings to your doctor or health professional. Be sure and ask how long you should expect to wait for the results before you leave.
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