Ultrasound also called ultrasonography is a non-invasive imaging test that uses high-frequency sound waves to create real-time pictures or videos of internal organs or other soft tissues, such as blood vessels. The image obtained by ultrasound is known as a sonogram and this enables healthcare providers to see details of soft tissues inside the body without making any incisions or cuts. The best thing about this technology is that, unlike X-rays, it does not use radiation and is safe for use in pregnant females.
How does an ultrasound work?
During an ultrasound, a healthcare provider passes a device called a transducer over an area of the body or inside a body opening. The provider applies a thin layer of gel to the skin so that the ultrasound waves are transmitted from the transducer through the gel and into the body. The transducer converts electrical current into high-frequency sound waves and sends the waves into the body’s tissue. Sound waves bounce off structures inside the body and back to the transducer, which converts the waves into electrical signals. A computer then transforms the pattern of electrical signals into real-time images or videos, which are displayed on a computer screen.
There are two main categories of ultrasound imaging, including:
1. Pregnancy Ultrasound:
Healthcare providers often use ultrasound to monitor a woman and her baby during pregnancy. Providers use prenatal ultrasound to confirm that a woman is pregnant, check to see if she is pregnant with more than one baby, to estimate how long she has been pregnant and the gestational age of the unborn baby. It also checks the fetal growth and position of the unborn baby, to see the movement and heart rate of the unborn baby, checks for congenital conditions in the unborn baby’s brain, spinal cord, heart, or other parts of their body, to check the amount of amniotic fluid.
2. Diagnostic Ultrasound:
Healthcare providers use diagnostic ultrasounds to view internal parts of the body to check if something is wrong or not working properly. They can help the provider learn more – what is causing a wide range of symptoms, such as unexplained pain, masses, or what may be causing an abnormal blood test. For most diagnostic ultrasound exams, the technician places the transducer on the skin. In some cases, they may need to place the transducer inside the body, such as in the vagina or rectum.
Examples of Diagnostic Ultrasounds Include:
Abdominal ultrasounds can analyze and detect the causes of abdominal pain.
Providers use kidney ultrasound to assess the size, location, and shape of the kidneys and related structures. Ultrasound can detect cysts, tumors, obstructions, or infections within or around the kidneys.
A breast ultrasound is a non-invasive test to identify breast lumps and cysts.
This is a special ultrasound technique that assesses the movement of materials, like blood, in the body. It allows the provider to see and evaluate blood flow through arteries and veins in the body.
Providers use ultrasound to assess the thyroid, a butterfly-shaped endocrine gland in the neck. They can measure the size of the thyroid and check if there are nodules or lesions within the gland.
What happens during an ultrasound?
Ultrasounds that involve applying the transducer or probe over the skin and not in the body; follow these general steps:
- Lie on the side or back on a comfortable table.
- The ultrasound technician will apply a small amount of water-soluble gel to the skin over the area to be examined. This gel does not harm the skin or stain clothes.
- The technician will move a hand-held transducer or probe over the gel to get images of the body.
- The technician may ask to be very still or to hold your breath for a few seconds to create clearer pictures.
- Once the technician has received with enough images, they will wipe off any remaining gel on the skin and you will be done.
Note: An ultrasound test normally takes 30 minutes to an hour.
Diagnostic ultrasound is a safe procedure that utilizes low-power sound waves and does not use radiation, unlike other medical imaging tests, such as X-rays and CT scans.
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