Ultrasound imaging, a technology used across a range of procedures, generates internal pictures through sound waves. This non-invasive, painless, radiation-free procedure may be recommended to analyze internal organs for the source of pain, infection or swelling. It is also used to examine developing babies in pregnant women or to assess the brain and hip area in infants.
What is General Ultrasound Imaging?
Sonography uses soundwaves to produce an image of the body’s internal organs and tissues. A probe or transducer no larger than a microphone is used to capture the image.
First, a gel is applied to the area being examined to improve contact. The probe emits high-frequency soundwaves that pass through the gel into the body. When the sound waves bounce back, the probe gathers the amplitude, frequency, time and body structure or tissue the waves pass through. After it’s measured, this data is used to create real-time images, which appear on a video screen.
Ultrasound is similar to the sonar technology used by boats, fishermen and bats to determine how far away an object is, how large it is and how dense it could be. For medical purposes, ultrasound determines if something is solid or contains fluid, which assists with identifying changes in organs, tissues and blood vessels, tumors and other abnormal masses.
Doppler ultrasound, a specialized technique used to observe materials moving through the arteries and veins, may also be requested. Blood cell movement alters the pitch of the reflected sound waves and, in turn, this technology can generate graphs or pictures of how blood migrates through the vessels. A few procedures may be requested:
- Color Doppler: A computer transposes the ultrasound results into a color image meant to indicate the blood’s speed and direction.
- Power Doppler: This technology allows for more sensitivity and detail, especially where reduced blood flow is concerned. However, it can’t capture flow direction.
- Spectral Doppler: A graphic indicates how much distance the blood travels over a particular period. Sound wave data can also be used to listen to blood flow in relation to heartbeat.
All ultrasound procedures have the following general benefits:
- Widely available and less expensive than other imaging methods.
- For patients, it’s an easy and painless procedure. No radiation is used.
- Images offer a clearer picture of tissues than X-rays can capture. As such, it’s ideal for monitoring and diagnosing conditions in unborn babies.
- The technology can assist with guiding minimally invasive procedures.
Who Should Have This Procedure?
Doctors may request an ultrasound to diagnose a range of conditions by examining the body’s internal organs for pain, infection and swelling. Commonly, it’s used to monitor:
- Blood vessels, large and small
- Liver and gallbladder
- Uterus and ovaries
- Thyroid and neighboring parathyroid
- Brain, spine and hips in infants
A Doppler ultrasound may further be requested to:
- Identify blood clots and other blood vessel blockages
- Observe narrowing blood vessels and reduced blood flow
- Identify tumors and congenital vascular malformation
- Study increased blood flow
- Determine if a patient needs an angioplasty
Ultrasounds are not ideal for every condition or part of the body, as air or gas can easily alter results. As such, this procedure is not recommended for diagnosing most bowel and lung issues.
What You Can Expect
Common prep for an ultrasound is fasting for 4 – 6 hours or drinking fluids to fill a patient’s bladder. As with most imaging procedures, be sure arrive in comfortable clothing and remove jewelry ahead of time.
As the procedure starts:
- Patients will lie faceup on an exam table that may move or tilt at an angle.
- A technologist will start by applying the water-based gel to the area about to be imaged.
- Placing the transducer on your skin, the technologist guides it back and forth over the area, taking a series of images in the process. You may feel a light amount of pressure.
- Once all images are taken, there is no downtime. Regular activities can be resumed right away.
Following the ultrasound, the radiologist reviews all images and sends the results to your doctor, who may schedule an appointment to review them with you.
Has your doctor recommended general ultrasound imaging? Contact us to make an appointment today!