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Ultrasound

What is an ultrasound?

Ultrasonography, which is sometimes called sonography, uses high-frequency sound waves and a computer to create images of blood vessels, tissues, and organs. Ultrasounds are used to view internal organs as they function, and to assess blood blow through various vessels. Ultrasound procedures are often used to examine many parts of the body such as the abdomen, breasts, female pelvis, prostate, scrotum, thyroid and parathyroid, and the vascular system. During pregnancy, ultrasounds are performed to evaluate the development of the fetus.

How are ultrasounds performed?

Ultrasounds may be done on an outpatient basis, or as part of inpatient care. Although each hospital may have specific protocols in place, generally, an ultrasound procedure follows this process:

  1. A gel-like substance is smeared on the area of the body to undergo the ultrasound (the gel acts as a conducer).
  2. Using a transducer, a tool that sends ultrasound waves, the ultrasound is sent through the patient's body.
  3. The sound from the transducer is reflected off structures inside the body, and the information from the sounds is analyzed by a computer.
  4. The computer then creates a picture of these structures on a television screen. The moving pictures can be recorded on film videotape.
  5. There are no confirmed adverse biological effects on patients or instrument operators caused by exposures to ultrasound.

What are the different types of ultrasound?

Different ultrasound techniques exist for different conditions. Examples of some of the more common types of ultrasound examinations include the following:

  • Doppler ultrasound - used to see structures inside the body, while evaluating blood flow at the same time. Doppler ultrasound can determine if there are any problems within the veins and arteries.
  • vascular ultrasound - used to see the vascular system and its function, including detection of blood clots.
  • echocardiogram - used to see the heart and its valves, and to evaluate the effectiveness of the heart's pumping ability.
  • abdominal ultrasound - used to detect any abnormalities of the abdominal organs (i.e., kidneys, liver, pancreas, gallbladder), such as gallstones or tumors.
  • renal ultrasound - used to examine the kidneys and urinary tract.
  • obstetrical ultrasound - used to monitor the development of the fetus.
  • pelvic ultrasound - used to find the cause of pelvic pain, such as an ectopic pregnancy in women, or to detect tumors or masses.
  • breast ultrasound - used to examine a mass in the breast tissue.
  • thyroid ultrasound - used to see the thyroid and to detect any abnormalities.
  • scrotal ultrasound - used to further investigate pain in the testicles.
  • prostate ultrasound - used to examine any nodules felt during a physical examination.
  • musculoskeletal ultrasound - used to examine any joint or muscle pain for conditions, such as a tear.
  • interventional ultrasound - used to help the surgeon during a minimally invasive operation or biopsy.

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