What is ultrasound?
Ultrasound is a type of diagnostic imaging that uses sound waves to produce detailed images of organs and other tissues inside your body. Unlike X-rays, ultrasound doesn’t use radiation, which makes it very safe. In fact, it’s so safe, it’s routinely used in pregnant women to monitor fetal development. When most people think of ultrasound, they think of the prenatal exams used to determine the gender of an unborn baby or to monitor the baby’s growth and health while it’s in the uterus. But although prenatal screening might be what ultrasound is most widely known for, the imaging exam has many more applications, making it not only very safe but also very versatile. Ultrasound is especially good at capturing images of soft tissues, and it’s routinely used to diagnose the cause of pain and other symptoms. Videos produced during an ultrasound exam can monitor blood flow to help your doctor identify areas of blockage or other problems related to circulation.
How ultrasound works
Ultrasound imaging uses the same principles as the sonar systems used in ships and submarines. When a soundwave comes in contact with an object, the wave bounces back. These echo waves have a specific frequency or pattern that can be measured and “translated” into images. In medical imaging, ultrasound can be used to determine the shape, size and contours of organs, blood vessels and other structures and tissues, and they can be used detect and evaluate tumors or other abnormal growths or masses. In many cases, ultrasounds can even determine if a mass is primarily solid or liquid.
During the exam, the sound waves are emitted from a special instrument called a transducer. When the waves “bounce back” or echo, a sensitive receiver inside the transducer captures the wave data and sends it back to a computer that uses special software to create still images and video. These images can be viewed in real-time (as they’re being captured) and they can be saved for viewing later. The sound waves used by the ultrasound device are outside of the range of sounds we can hear, so you won’t hear the waves during the exam.
What to expect during your ultrasound exam?
At Windsor Radiology, our advanced ultrasound system makes imaging quick and simple. For your exam, you’ll lie on a padded exam table to make it easy for the ultrasound technician to use the transducer. You’ll need to wear loose clothing or you might need to change into a dressing gown. Before the exam begins, the technician will place a small amount of a water-based gel on your skin. The gel helps the ultrasound device (transducer) stay in close contact with your skin for better sound transmission and clearer and more precise images. Depending on the exam, various types of transducers are utilized.
Next, the technician will glide the handheld transducer over your skin, pressing firmly in some areas to make sure the clearest images are produced. In some cases, you may be asked to hold your breath for a few seconds to “lift” your ribcage so the technician can gain a better view of specific organs or tissues. As the transducer passes over your skin, the images it captures are transmitted to a video monitor. The technician will watch the images on the monitor to guide the exam. On certain female pelvic studies, an ultrasound can also be performed using a special probe that’s inserted into the vagina. By placing the probe inside your body, the ultrasound can capture even more detailed images of specific internal structures. Once your exam is complete, the images will be evaluated by one of our board-certified radiologists and a final report will be sent to your doctor.