An ultrasound exam (also known as a sonogram) is a diagnostic imaging study that uses high-frequency sound waves to provide images of internal areas of your body. It is particularly useful in producing images of “soft” tissue areas (like your heart and abdominal organs) because it can differentiate between different forms of tissue. Ultrasound can also show real-time internal motion, like the beating of your heart and the flowing of blood through your veins.
A common use of ultrasound is with pregnant women to assess how their babies are developing.
How it works
An ultrasound is painless, and there are no aftereffects. No radiation is used, so this procedure is very safe, even for pregnant women. In an ultrasound exam, sound waves far above the range of human hearing penetrate your body. When your internal organs reflect back the sound waves, a computer records and interprets the resulting echoes and generates an image of the area of your body being examined.
Preparing for your ultrasound
Some ultrasound exams require no special preparation. But in other cases, you may be required to avoid all food and drink for six hours beforehand. Or you may be required to drink specific amounts of water an hour before the exam.
To help in the reading of your study, please bring any previous ultrasound results you may have with you to your appointment.
Typically, the exam itself only takes about 30 to 45 minutes. You will be asked to lie on a comfortable, padded table, and your ultrasound technologist (or sonographer) will spread a warm transmitting gel over the area of your body being scanned. He or she will then run a wand-like instrument (called a transducer) lightly through the gel a number of times. A video screen will immediately display moving images of the area being examined, and the images will be recorded for analysis. For certain exams, the transducer is inserted into the body to get a closer look at the area being studied.
The images produced by your ultrasound will be reviewed by a certified radiologist, and a report will be sent to your doctor, usually within 24 hours. Your doctor will explain the results to you and what they mean relative to your particular health issues and treatment.