Ultrasound is a high frequency sound wave that can penetrate the body at varying depths enabling the sound waves to be sent from the handheld ultrasound probe into the body and the probe then receives echoes coming back that form an image on the ultrasound scanners monitor. Ultrasound gel is used as coupling agent between the probe and the skin, without gel the soundwaves would not enter the body effectively.
Ultrasound has no side effects and is safe.
Ultrasound can be used to assess solid internal organs such as the liver, kidneys, and fluid filled organs such as the gall bladder and urinary bladder. It is also useful at assessing joints and soft tissue as well as veins and arteries where we use a type of procedure called Doppler to assess flow and direction that can visualize any clots within the veins or demonstrate widening of arteries such as the Aorta.
In comparison with CT or MRI scans ultrasound is a cheap, safe, and relatively quick procedure, however it does have limitations. Ultrasound currently cannot assess bowel or stomach although new scanners in the future show promise that bowel assessment will be possible.
If a patient has a high BMI (body mass index) then image quality may be poor, or if there is an excess of bowel gas the sound waves may not be able to penetrate certain areas of the body.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Gall Bladder
- Abdominal Aorta
- Urinary bladder
- Uterus (womb)
- Scrotum (Testicles and Epididymis)
- Soft tissue lumps and bumps
Most scans are painless, sometimes the sonographer may have to push the probe which may be uncomfortable.
Transvaginal Internal scans may feel uncomfortable at times but should never be painful
Vascular scans do sometimes hurt a little when the probe is pressed firmly to compress a vein, for example in the leg when checking for a suspected Thrombosis.
Sometimes when the sonographer is assessing the bladder it may feel uncomfortable if the bladder is full.
This depends on the type of scan but no scan should take more than 30 minutes unless there are several body parts scanned, most scans will only take 15 to 20 minutes.
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