Ultrasound Imaging

Ultrasound imaging, also called ultrasound scanning or sonography, involves exposing part of the body to high-frequency sound waves to produce pictures of the inside of the body. Ultrasound exams do not use ionizing radiation (x-ray). Because ultrasound images are captured in real-time, they can show the structure and movement of the body's internal organs, as well as blood flowing through blood vessels.

Ultrasound imaging is usually a painless medical test that helps physicians diagnose and treat medical conditions.

Conventional ultrasound displays the images in thin, flat sections of the body. Advancements in ultrasound technology include three-dimensional (3-D) ultrasound that formats the sound wave data into 3-D images. Four-dimensional (4-D) ultrasound is 3-D ultrasound in motion.

A Doppler ultrasound study may be part of an ultrasound examination.

Doppler ultrasound is a special ultrasound technique that evaluates blood as it flows through a blood vessel, including the body's major arteries and veins in the abdomen, arms, legs and neck.

There are three types of Doppler ultrasound:

Color Doppler uses a computer to convert Doppler measurements into an array of colors to visualize the speed and direction of blood flow through a blood vessel.

Power Doppler is a newer technique that is more sensitive than color Doppler and capable of providing greater detail of blood flow, especially in vessels that are located inside organs. Power Doppler, however, does not help the radiologist determine the direction of flow, which may be important in some situations.

Instead of displaying Doppler measurements visually, Spectral Doppler displays blood flow measurements graphically, in terms of the distance traveled per unit of time.

What are some common uses of the procedure?
Ultrasound examinations can help to diagnose a variety of conditions and to assess organ damage following illness.

Ultrasound is used to help physicians diagnose symptoms such as:

  • pain
  • swelling
  • infection

 


Ultrasound is a useful way of examining many of the body's internal organs, including but not limited to the:

  • blood vessels, including the abdominal aorta and its major branches
  • liver
  • gallbladder
  • spleen
  • pancreas
  • kidneys
  • bladder
  • uterus, ovaries, and unborn child (fetus) in pregnant patients
  • thyroid and parathyroid glands
  • scrotum (testicles)

 


Ultrasound is also used to:

  • guide procedures such as needle biopsies, in which needles are used to extract sample cells from an abnormal area for laboratory testing.
  • image the breasts and to guide biopsy of breast cancer
  • diagnose a variety of heart conditions and to assess damage after a heart attack or other illness.

 


Doppler ultrasound images can help the physician to see and evaluate:

  • blockages to blood flow (such as clots)
  • narrowing of vessels (which may be caused by plaque)
  • tumors and congenital malformation

 


With knowledge about the speed and volume of blood flow gained from a Doppler ultrasound image, the physician can often determine whether a patient is a good candidate for a procedure like angioplasty.

Preparing for your visit
Abdominal Ultrasound

Abdominal ultrasound studies the upper abdominal compartment to diagnose any abnormalities. Structures studied include the liver, gallbladder, pancreas, kidneys, aorta and spleen.

It is important that you follow these directions closely to minimize the presence of abdominal gas. Gas blocks the sound beam and will interfere with the exam by resulting in unclear images.

For morning appointments: Do not eat or drink anything after midnight the night before your exam, with the exception of medications.

For noon or later appointments: Do not eat or drink anything for eight hours prior to your exam, with the exception of medications.

Please do not smoke or chew gum prior to your exam, as they can increase stomach gas.

Obstetrical Ultrasound

Obstetrical ultrasound studies the fetus while it is still in the womb. It shows the size and position of both the fetus and the placenta. Additionally, the approximate age and weight of the fetus are measured. You will be asked to come into the exam with a full bladder. The reason for this is that sound waves travel more easily through liquids. To obtain images of the necessary internal structures, including the lower end of the uterus, the sound waves will first need to travel through your bladder. A full bladder will enable the ultrasound to produce a better image of the areas being studied.

Drink five 8-ounce glasses of non-carbonated fluids one hour before your exam.

Please do not empty your bladder prior to the exam.

There are no dietary restrictions for this exam.

Pelvic Ultrasound

Pelvic ultrasounds study the uterus, ovaries and their surrounding anatomy. You will be asked to come into the exam with a full bladder. The reason for this is that sound waves travel more easily through liquids, and to obtain images of the uterus and ovaries, the sound waves will first need to travel through your bladder. A full bladder will enable the ultrasound to produce a better image of the areas being studied.

Occasionally the radiologist may need to better visualize the pelvic anatomy to make an accurate diagnosis. In these circumstances, transvaginal ultrasound may be used.

Drink five 8-ounce glasses of non-carbonated fluids one hour before your exam.

Please do not empty your bladder prior to the exam.

There are no dietary restrictions for this exam.

Small Organ Ultrasound


Small organs, such as the thyroid and scrotum can also be studied by ultrasound. There is no special preparation necessary for these procedures.

Length of exam & results
Most exams will take between 45 minutes and one hour. One of our board certified radiologists will read and analyze your exam, and then forward the findings to your referring physician, who will discuss the findings with you.